The Open House
This is a gem of a production. In fact I think the production might be better than the play. A family of people connected only by their gene pool has gathered to be flayed by the Father (Peter Friedman). These people have no names, only roles. Mother (Carolyn McCormic). Uncle (Michael Countryman). Daughter (Hannah Bos). Son (Danny McCarthy). Father is recovering from a stroke that seems to have affected everything but his tongue and his bitter soul. He can read and snark with the best of them. As a matter of fact that is all he can do.
This gets to be one-note fairly quickly, but in the hands of Peter Friedman we can endure it. The kids have the usual ability f=to come back at him because, hey, it’s only their father. The one who takes the brunt of it is Uncle who is told not to sit or walk or THINK about this family. Mother takes a lot of the dung as well, but when we see them alone together we see that old Mom can give as good as she gets. She just doesn’t’ like to do it in front of the children for goodness sakes.
This is a house that is anything BUT open. The shades are drawn. The air molecules seem afraid to move. Even the dog decides to take a break when the kids come home.
Seque to the other folks, the ones who want to make this dwelling into an open home. One by one the actors disappear for various reasons, and one by one they return. Not only do they have names: Anna, Brian, Tom, etc., they have the ability to turn the sad little house on its ear with hardly a lifted hand. Each arrives with a touch of the previous quintet. A piece of hum, a color scheme – little touches here and there. One by one they enter, and as each enters it is as though they are dropping a little kryptonite off for Father. As his hold on the household slips, so does his equilibrium.
This is a fascinating so-si-do. What it means and why we are watching it is never shoved down our throats which makes the entire experience all the better. There is something about all of us being connected, and who DO we think we are anyway? Are the newcomers just the old timers and will they end up the same way? Are the old timers disappearing or just being re-invented?
How does this life thing work anyway? Eno’s writing is often fluid and sly. Oliver Butler has pulled out every stop to make this production bloom even when it feels like the barren desert of family relationships. And this cast takes on the challenge brilliantly. Eno’s writing is the guide, but these folks pick up the ball and blast it out of the park. Bravo.
And because they do, you will have a lot to think about on the subway ride home. Yes indeedy.
The Open House
By Will Eno; directed by Oliver Butler; sets by Antje Ellermann; costumes by Bobby Frederick Tilley II; lighting by David Lander; sound by M. L. Dogg; production stage manager, Donald Fried; associate artistic director, Beth Whitaker; general manager, Adam Bernstein; director of production, Paul Ziemer. Presented by Signature Theater, James Houghton, artistic director; Erika Mallin, executive director. At Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Clinton; 212-244-7529, signaturetheatre.org. Through March 30. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
WITH: Hannah Bos, Michael Countryman, Peter Friedman, Danny McCarthy and Carolyn McCormick.