Having just seen Where the Great Ones Run, The New Electric Ballroom and the standing-room-only “Rant and Rave,” I have come to expect, at the Rogue Machine, both craftsmanship and depth.
But one need only know the playwright’s reason for developing House to understand why it lags in comparison to the others on display and would hence prevent this guest from writing a full-price offer.
Daniel MacIvor, an award-winning playwright, who was once a fledgling actor, says he wrote House in 1991 because he was frustrated with the lack of roles and wanted a vehicle for his own acting skills.
Well, that is what comes across in this well-acted production.
Performer, Donnie Smith, who delivers this West Coast premiere, is clearly an accomplished talent, yet I could discern no other purpose for this piece aside from showing off his wares. I felt no personal connection to the material. I didn’t get the point. I found myself asking, And? So? What’s in this for me?
The character’s prevailing message, at least his refrain repeated throughout, is, “I’m f&cked up.” Congratulations. Aren’t we all? So, now what?
This repeated admission to being f&cked up certainly yields a chuckle or two. I’m sure it is meant to be an opportunity to connect. In 1991, it may have even been provocative. A raw and somewhat crass declaration of pathology along with the occasional - and seemingly random - punctures of the fourth wall would have broken groovy ground back then. But now, in 2012, it feels trite and in need of new curtains.
The admitted purpose of this one-act was, and seemingly is, to showcase the actor’s skills, but that goal would better be realized if it were to accomplish additional feats, such as lead an audience to fathom and feel salient messages and feelings.
As an acting kittereen, the emotions most on display are those that are easiest to play: anger, frustration and mania. There is limited emotional square footage.
While actor Smith is present and committed and as nuanced as one can be while playing anger, frustration and mania, he doesn’t venture often enough - because of the script - into contrasting vulnerability and grace.
He doesn’t fully transcend, and so the audience is not transported, to someplace surprising and/or more beautiful than their own f&cked up reality.
When a seller puts a property on the market, if she aims to make a sale, she tosses out the excess personal items (all reminders of how f&cked up she is), repairs what is broken, stages and cleans the rooms, lays out finger foods and beverages, and attempts to make the place feel like it belongs to the buyer, not the seller.
Solo shows don’t do that often enough. They focus too much on the seller.
Here, the playwright tries to remedy any over-dwell in narcissism with a bit of audience participation. The actor breaks the fourth wall, occasionally, and poses a few irrelevant questions (sometimes actual and sometimes rhetorical, making it hard for the audience to know when to do what); and, to confuse the audience even more (or thrust them onto their toes?), the actor jumps up and sits behind the audience. Why?
If this is meant to be a mock audition, would an actor assault his auditors in this way? If it is a show within a show (or above a show) - a sort of meta non-reality - then what is the purpose of sitting up, behind the audience? To turn the tables in some way? To tell me that I am also f&cked up? But this has already been established - no great epiphanies lie here!
Because this random audience participation is accompanied by a persistently dark tone and repeated one-storey message, it seems as though the audience participation is nothing more than a device to keep the audience awake.
Rather than engage the audience by toting them on a winding, emotional journey, the audience is engaged by force. The audience participation, then, comes across as fumbling penetration.
While I understand the playwright’s desire to write his own conveyance (I encourage my own solo performance students to do the same), this play doesn’t do what I suggest all solo performers do, which is have a purpose beyond simply that.
A play should offer something fruitful to an audience. The time spent should be worth more than actual time spent.
When we read a book, watch a movie or attend a play, we expect that the ten, three or two hours spent yield greater insight and emotional growth than the same amount of time in real life.
We expect a certain amount of time equity.
Here, in the hyper-literal theater of the reality-is-art age, and in this production, we are given little more than reality in real time. When that is the case, I am reminded, personally, that I might glean more from reality itself - for example, from riding the Metro Red Line, where there are loads of people who really are f&cked up.
Because when I ride the train, I am at least transported, and I can get off at whatever stoop I want.
In summation, House is not, enough, my cup of real estate. It would be more alluring to me with a pinch more temporal equity.
Nonetheless, others, including several reviewers, have enjoyed this play immensely, and have felt themselves more than adequately invested.
So, go and see for yourself. One person’s too-small bungalow is another person's cozy abode.
House, directed by Brian Nitzkin, shows at the Rogue Machine Theatre through September 1.