Wednesday, October 11, 2017

American Home (review)

Quick note:  This review is quite late.  My deepest apologies.  

Spoilers ahoy!

We forget things.  Sometimes little, sometimes huge, plus all sizes in between and out to the side.  We make assumptions and they all too often prove wrong.

Sometimes this can almost destroy us.  All it takes is a few things to go wrong, maybe.  We don't like to consider that fact.  Rather we as a people like to assess blame, insist on assigning responsibility, then pretend once that is done the problem has been solved.

Of course that is itself wrong, or at least wildly out of tune with reality.  Stephanie Alison Walker's play American Home gives a vivid portrayal of exactly that -- a series of assumption in fact many of us saw happen, knew folks who suffered from a collective series of errors as well as pure bad luck.  Its focus is on the housing crisis which pretty much began in 2008 with the economic downturn, and which echoes with us yet.  Done in a kind of modified Reader's Theatre format, the play mostly deals with three sets of characters dealing with the loss of their homes.

Credit: Kate Woodruff
First is an elderly lady (Bette Smith), a widow confused by events and stubborn in her pride, even though she has at least one friend left -- a police officer who warns her of what will follow if she cannot make payments.

Second we find a young, happy married couple (Jono Eiland and Ozioma Akagha) who long to find a home and start a family.  At last, after months and months of searching, they find exactly what both want, the dream HOME.

Almost immediately the husband loses his six figure job.  Nobody's fault.  Just the economy.  His boss genuinely doesn't want to let him go, feels dreadful, knows the young man just bought a house.  On top of this, of course the couple learn they are pregnant.

Credit: Kate Woodruff
I gather what happened to this couple is more-or-less the story of the playwright and her husband.  This isn't needed to appreciate the play, but does add some extra dimension to it all.  A tiny extra twist of the knife.

Third we find a prosperous woman (Jessica Kaye Temple) with a successful personal ministry, teaching what has come to be called "prosperity gospel."  She says Jesus wants you to be rich and comfortable, that with enough faith and work you will be, that things turn out all right just because Jesus really does love you and so he bestows financial security upon the faithful as a natural consequence.

Credit: Kate Woodruff
For the record, I have a hard time imagining anything more blasphemous that doesn't involve breaking the law.

Her relationship with an early follower, a good friend who takes all her advice, proves especially heart-breaking in some ways.  Yet in a nice surprise, we also see some hope, some ability for change in this woman.  She has been a fool, not a malicious liar.

In fact the whole play--full of zingers and insights as it is (including a lot of valid commentary about how we treat tragedy in our media, seeing and demanding it be presented as a morality play)--contains some vivid gems of hope.  The old woman does have a friend, who helps.  The couple reel in psychological chaos following this disaster, but do not self-destruct.  The minister shows genuine compassion, even humility in the face of being wrong.

Credit: Kate Woodruff
Hope.  A valuable thing.  Even beautiful and when you take a good look around, not nearly as rare as it might seem.

I must also applaud the show for ending on perhaps the most important reason of all.  Why?  Why do we as a nation invest so very much passion and even identity in the idea of owning a house?

Let us all try and answer that one.

Sadly this show has closed but I urge everyone to keep an eye on this theatre company Little Candle Productions and the playwright Stephanie Alison Walker, the director Kate Woodruff as well as the entire cast who did exemplary jobs throughout: Jennifer Adler, Ozioma Akagha, Marc Barnes, Jono Eiland, Mel Green, Ethan Rains, Bette Smith, Jessica Temple, and Caroline Westheimer.

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