House For Sale
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The program for Transport Group’s premiere production of director Daniel Fish’s stage adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s essay, House For Sale, tells us that every performance is different, because each actor has apparently memorized the entire ninety minute piece and the sections of the text they perform each night are determined on the spot when the on-stage rows of lights display the color they’ve been assigned. Unfortunately, audience members don’t get programs until after the play is done, so if you’re not aware that the original piece was written in one voice you have no idea that each ensemble member represents the same person and may wind up spending too much time trying to figure out what the blinking lights are supposed to mean.
Frazen’s essay, published in his 2007 collection The Discomfort Zone, concerns the author’s childhood memories and more recent observations as he prepares the house he grew up in to be sold after his mother’s death. Unfortunately, Fish’s abstract approach to the material not only does nothing to enhance Frazen’s words, it alienates the audience from whatever value the text may contain.
The five-member ensemble (Rob Campbell, Lisa Joyce, Merritt Janson, Christina Rouner and Michael Rudko) occupies a lengthy playing area that the audience looks down on from seats on risers. A fourth wall lies horizontally between the stage and the seats and has a mounted video screen that projects directly upward and upside down from the audience’s vantage point. Long rows of folding chairs give the playing space the look of an airport waiting room. Inexplicably connected projections, like the bloody conclusion to the film Bonnie and Clyde, are shown on the upstage wall.
The play begins with each actor taking turns delivering the same monologue, speeding up each turn until the words are gibberish. They sometimes sing the text. There’s a point where they speak in unison while all jog furiously in place. Soon after, there is text where each actor speaks one word at a time. One cast member is dragged across the length of the stage while speaking of economic matters. Another dons a Minnie Mouse costume while telling of a family trip to Disney World.
What is done is done very well, but what the production has to do with the text is baffling.
Photo of Lisa Joyce, Rob Campbell, Christina Rouner, Michael Rudko and Merritt Janson by Carol Rosegg.
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Posted on October 27, 2012 - by
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About the Author:After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.