The House hits home

Human Race Theatre raises questions of attachment, morals, and humor

Human Race Theatre’s cast of The House (l-r) Vince Gatton, Alex Sunderhaus, Caitlen Larsen and Scott Stoney. Photo: Scott J. Kimmins

By Jerome Yorke

One of the many gifts of live theatre is the revealing and unraveling of character through relationships and circumstance. As soon as the lights are raised on the interior of a beautiful mid-century modern home, playwright Brian Parks starts with an uncanny sprint of dialogue that requires us to pay attention. Shanny and Martyn Redmond, jovial and just as nervous as young love, expertly played by veteran resident Human Race artists, Caitlin Larsen and Scott Stoney, are our elders who are hosting Lindsay and Fischer Libett. Lindsay, played by another veteran of the Human Race stage, Alex Sunderhaus, introduces us to Lindsay as a very capable and strong presence, holding a lawyer’s confidence. Barely making it through the threshold of the living room stairs, Fischer, played by the New York based actor Vince Gatton, is a polite and brightly sarcastic financial advisor. The Libetts were invited to their new home by the Redmonds just after the papers were signed that officially and legally handed the home over from Redman to Libett. The House begins with the four of them in the same room for the sole purpose of handing over of the keys.

For the Redmonds, it is the final step and the end of an era filled with memories, this was their home. Through the first few minutes they rapidly fill in and overlap their sentences and memories, they explain how they got to this point of sale through a rigorous vetting process to find the right couple to hand over their precious home. This unrelenting beginning dialogue pulls me up and to the edge of my seat so no detail is missed, in awe at the dexterity of the time and timing of the writing and delivery. It is clear that the Redmonds are in the golden years of their relationship. On the contrary, the Libetts barely get a word in, and when they do, it is more polite, single-word reassurances. They are clearly in an awkward position but give the Redmonds the space needed to connect to the home one last time.

The Libetts are at an exciting new chapter in their own young married life together, now well established in their own careers. They are ready to start a family, be part of a community that this neighborhood provides, and settle into a life that the Redmonds so clearly have accomplished. To the Libetts, this is their new house with the hopes of it one day becoming a home. Everything is accurately hurled into place for the two couples and we get an idea of who they are, astonishingly fast, when the keys are handed over.

Up to this point in our story, the dialogue is a very rapid staccato. Most directors might continue with this pace as it is set by the playwright, however, our director, Margarett Perry, uses this momentum to shape time, timing, and the ever-important pregnant pause. She is acutely aware of the musicality of the play. With this, the ensemble of actors play with expert articulation, following the rhythm of writing and create the kind of chaos that rings. As the dialogue rises and the action lifts, the house keys exchange hands as they ring out in the air of our expectation. There is a beautiful patience from the actors here. There is a complete pause from the dialogue and the space is filled with a proprioceptive conversation between the actors and audience. This, Perry says, comes from “a truthful engagement with reality, which allows room for the actors to play.” When an audience experiences this it gives them permission to go along with the ride. The moment the keys jingle, we’re ready and willing to go on an epic journey filled with the unexpected, and no journey is satisfying without some valleys to go along with the peaks.

With everything that goes to the extreme in this play, there are some places of writing that left me uneasy. Underneath the main themes of attachment, loss, change, and ambition, are motifs that raise questions of race relations, gender normality, sexual orientation, and stigmas aligned with special needs. The issues themselves are not off-putting, where Mr. Parks misses is in the resolve of the questions he raises. Writing jokes about race, gender, sex, and people with alternative needs should be handled with more care, some moments felt icky and not funny. Parks is right in including these issues, but there is no resolution to the hateful and exclusionary rhetoric that hold weight and power. It feels like they are there for the laugh, and not for the character development within relationships of differing points of view. Without meaningful resolution, these themes come out as insensitive and ugly at the expense of comedy and in spite of social dialogue.

The House is indeed a gift that is wrapped and ready to be ripped open for your enjoyment. The entire production will most certainly tease, please, and encourage you to laugh out loud in its unraveling reveal. I hope it will bring dialogue to some of the social issues it raises, and satisfies your own engagement with change knowing that what you hold on to will not survive without the intrinsic process of letting go.

The House will be playing from Nov. 2-19 at the Human Race Theatre at 126 North Main Street in Dayton. The play starts at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7-8, at 8 p.m. Nov. 9-11, at 2 p.m. Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. Nov. 14-15, at 8 p.m. Nov. 16-18, and 2 p.m. on Nov. 19. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit HumanRaceTheatre.org/Shows/Active-Shows/The-House

Reach theatre critic Jerome Yorke at JeromeYork@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Ashley K Collins

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