Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Playwright Eliana Pipes fashioned the script as part of her MFA work at Boston University and it's both a multi-layered dark drama as well as thematically complex. Two Latinx sisters come together and clash within the confines of a seasoned family home. We are in Hilo Villa, a neighborhood experiencing gentrification. Patricia (Renata Eastlick) is a bit older and an accountant who has eyes for big-time bucks. She believes she has been devalued as a person and she is high-strung. She took on the caretaking role during the sisters' mother's dying days. Julia (Darilyn Castillo) is visibly pregnant and at the house for the first time in quite a while. Julia makes discoveries (literally through living room walls) about her cultural past. She is also beset with unanswered questions about herself. Now, Julia is drawn to the heritage of her great-great grandfather who built the place. Patricia's aspiration is to seize the moment and get rich quick.
Enter plastic-smiling Tessa (Marianna McClellan), clad in pink and host of the reality television capitalizing gimmickry: "Flip It and List It." Tessa, who must be aware of her power, faces not only the house audience watching the play but to several cameras and practitioners bouncing around the stage as well. The character hogs the stage and the spotlight. Tessa is anything but naive and her motives finally reveal that, in her case, appearance does not approximate actuality. Seemingly perpetually chirpy, the grinning Tessa, through Pipes' dialogue, bestows her scarier self toward the end of the proceedings.
Stephanie Osin Cohen provides scenography for Dream Hou$e and the trappings are pivotal. The house physically transforms time and again as furnishings are updated to make the interior "pop." The crass nature of this TV exposure theoretically will expedite quick dollars for those involved. Projection designer Mark Holthusen's use of hologram-type imagery on the floor is exemplary, while costumer Haydee Zelideth's wardrobe choices for all are specific, appropriate, and complementary to plot.
Pipes has written a play that is haunting, clever and relevant. She juxtaposes the value of ethnicity (family roots) against the quick fix the American dream might offer. Further, the inner tensions Patricia and Julia evidence are not uncommon when it comes to tending for an elderly, ailing parent. Suffice to say it is often the case that one sibling bears the brunt of the ordeal during that terribly difficult situation. Emotions are openly raw, and repressed feelings cannot be withheld. Woolery effectively moves the actors about to tap into multiple meanings.
The cast for the Long Wharf rendering of the play includes Castillo, as Julia, and McClellan, as Tessa. Both played the same roles in the Alliance Theatre run. Eastlick, as Patricia, joins the group in New Haven. The crackling back and forth exchange between Patricia and Tessa near the conclusion of Dream Hou$e is nothing short of, to be euphemistic, harrowing. The acting, especially during this sequence, is to be admired.
The level of distress this fine contemporary work provokes is quite discomforting. A theater viewer at the performance I attended consistently giggled throughout the afternoon. One assumes that their laughter was due to nerves: there's nothing funny about this production, a terrific one.
Long Wharf Theatre, based at its current spot for close to six decades, is evolving as it turns the page to perform at various locales throughout New Haven next fall and beyond. There is only one more production to be staged at Sergeant Drive: Queen begins in May.
Dream Hou$e runs through April 3, 2022, at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven CT. For tickets and information, please call 203-787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.