House for Sale – Not Ordinary

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Reviewed by: Sandi Durell

The Transport Group has taken Jonathan Franzen’s essay “House for Sale” and created a mis-happen theatre piece that is supposed to make us believe it’s a clever adaptation making a real point. Franzen is a National Book Award Winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist. This essay is based upon his mother’s death and what it took to sell the house and its contents, and choose the right realtor.

From the initial entrance, we are greeted by a screen on which Faye Dunaway, looking stunning in her role in “Bonnie & Clyde,” is the background still. The rectangular staging area is filled with folding chairs along the perimeter, and some along the front near a long runway. There’s an organ to one side.

This is 85 minutes, no intermission, of pure torture! I cannot put it any more kindly than to say that sometimes the need to reach for a clever, purposeful telling of a story results in over-reaching to the degree where, as an audience member, you itch to run out of the theatre as fast as you can, feeling you’ve been duped. Daniel Fish’ direction has little to no meaning and the more gimmicks he tries to use, the worse the situation gets.

The cast of five performers – Rob Campbell, Lisa Joyce, Merritt Janson, Christina Rouner and Michael Rudko begin by each speaking parts of Mr. Franzen’s essay, and each cast member repeats the same thing over and over again. Slowly, quickly, incoherently at times. Occasionally the cast sings; occasionally the cast runs in place as fast as they can. The performers deserve medals for their part in this “piece of art.”

When a production has to use so many ploys to get a point across, something is amiss. Theatre should push certain buttons, but for reasons that make sense; to stir emotions and thoughts. This stirred nothing but irritation.

Lest I forget to mention, the images change on the screen and we get to see Betty Friedan and a young Angela Davis too. ( I guess we’re in the 1960s) Oh, and the cast members recite their dialogue as a series of lights flash on and off around the space according to color cues.

“House for Sale” at the Duke on 42nd Street

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