Theatre: Playwright's Horizons
Stephen Kunken, Morena Baccarin, Christopher Evan Welch, Haynes Thigpen and Jeremy Strong in Our House.
Photo by Joan Marcus
BOTTOM LINE: Rebeck creates a funny, strong comment on society without being overbearing or preachy.
Flip on the news and all too often reporters from competing networks will outright contradict one another, so one can’t help but wonder “What are the facts here?” or worse, they spend hours on an inane story about someone’s infidelity, as if we care, when there are injustices and wars going on in the world. On the flip side, entertainment is reeling with “reality” TV that clearly lists teams of writers in the closing credits at the end of each episode. I’m sorry, I don’t know about you, but I’m a “real” person, living a “real” life, and I have no team of writers handing me a script every day so that I can live in “reality.” Nowadays the line between entertainment and news has never been so blurred...or dumbed down.
On this topic, Theresa Rebeck does not hold back in her new play Our House. This biting comedy challenges what today’s television and news has become and its effect on society. Rebeck does a better job of capturing what is “real” than reality television or the news ever will. She lashes out at modern media with unmatched wit and an honest, observational humor that is spot-on. She creates characters that you love to hate (or hate to love) and creates a feeling of suspense and drama within this boundary breaking comedy.
Christopher Even Welch deliciously facilitates Rebeck’s glib dialogue as Wes, a cocky, self-assured, self-important head honcho of TV network, SBS. Even though he is the bad guy in the story, he somehow manages to be the most likable. Morena Baccarin plays Jennifer, the news anchor who will do anything to get ahead in her career and you pretty much just want to punch her in the face. Baccarin never betrays Rebeck by commenting on this asinine, annoying, and supremely egocentric woman but rather plays her to a T.
Meanwhile, Merv, pricelessly played by Jeremy Strong, is obsessed with Jennifer who is the new host of his favorite reality TV show, Our House. Alice, vigorously portrayed by Katie Kreisler, can’t stand reality TV (or any TV for that matter) any more than she can stand her housemate, Merv, who seems to delight in doing things like eating Alice’s special yogurt and not replacing it. The drama in the house ensues as Alice organizes a house meeting to try to evict her TV-addict, couch potato, yogurt-stealing nemesis. Rebeck uses these two characters to show the polar opposites that our media-crazy society has created. They are both intelligent people with different extremist points of view which make them both ignorant in their own right and, like Jennifer, punch-in-the-face-worthy. Finally, worlds collide in a bizarre twist that brings the real house, Our House, and the news together.
Award winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Side Man, A View From the Bridge) exhibits his prowess as he masterfully and seamlessly stages scenes between the house and the newsroom. He dictates a pace that moves at the speed of modern language and creates a suspenseful thriller in the midst of laugh-out-loud antics. Together, Mayer and Rebeck have mastered a genre that is comedy but not tomfoolery, drama but not sentimental, politically and socially minded but not pretentious.
Rebeck’s characters are so interesting in the fact that they are all irritating individualists (with the exception of Stu, ably played by Stephen Kunken, who is basically the only character with a level, unselfish head on his shoulders and perhaps the reflection of what we, the audience, all hope we are for fear that if we’re not we may be like Wes, Jennifer, Alice or Merv). And yet these obnoxious characters all have something to say that’s worth listening to, you just have to weed your way through their egos first. Talk about holding a mirror up to society! Ms. Rebeck, I think you’ve got the twenty-first century’s number.
(Our House is currently in previews at Playwrights Horizons/Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street. Official opening night is slated for June 9th and it closes June 21st. Performance times are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2:30pm & 8pm and Sunday at 2:30pm & 7:30pm. Tickets are $65. Discounts on HOTtix available. $20 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under. Proof of age required. One ticket per person, per purchase. Student rush is $15 per ticket subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before curtain. One ticket per person, per purchase. Valid student ID required. Tickets available at the theatre’s box office and through ticketcentral.com, or at 212.279.4200. For more info go to playwrightshorizons.org/mainstage).
In addition, special Post-Performance Discussions with members of the cast and creative team will take place immediately after the following performances: Wednesday evening, May 27 at 8PM and Sunday matinee, June 7 at 2:30 PM.)