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Buy My House...Please!

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Gabriel Dean

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3555

SHOWING : October 08, 2009 - November 01, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Reality trumps reality TV in this side-splitting topical comedy.

Like so many young couples today, Tim & Bryn Lark, find that pregnancy, unemployment and foreclosure have put a strain on their marriage. The answer to their problems, Reality TV! The Larks need an Extreme Marriage Makeover or Tim will be Trading Spaces with The Bachelor.


CAST & CREW LIST
Playwright Gabriel Dean
Director Susan Reid
Lackey Jennifer L. Caldwell
Shelby Whitstone LaLa Cochran
Anthony Malley Bart Hansard
Bryn Lark Bethany Anne Lind
Lackey Eric J. Little
Lackey Eric Mendenhall
Tim Lark Matthew Myers
Peter Shaw Doyle Reynolds
Vivian Simms Qayla Shipp
Lacey Simms Kristyl Tift
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Rewrite this Script! Please!
by Dedalus
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
3.0
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. This guy just lost his job, and his wife is in a family way. It looks like they’re going to lose their lovely home, unless they can find someone to buy it. And get this – the funny part is that – THE ECONOMY TANKED AND NO ONE’S BUYING!!!

What? That doesn’t make you laugh?

Therein lies a major problem with Gabriel Dean’s “Buy My House, Please!” currently enjoying a World Premiere run at the Aurora Theatre. Unemployment, recession, and foreclosure may be nice and topical, and they may be the grist for a dark comedy. Here though, the set-up is just an uncomfortable contrivance for a not-very-necessary satirical swipe at Reality TV, an unfocused sit-com that sets up a straw-man target and skewers it with a sword possessing the sharpness of a whiffle-ball bat. After a contrived and unfunny first act that puts our distressed couple under the thumb of a relentlessly obnoxious Reality Show producer, the second act switches mood gears completely, and offers some scenes of genuine human contact, bolstered by some lovely performances, but totally undercut by too many by-the-numbers emotional contrivances, none of them remotely believable. It even shamelessly goes for our heart-strings with an orphaned child.

It’s really like a Mad Magazine “Lighter Side” sketch that decides (too late in the game) to be a parenting sob story. I found the premise about as appealing as a comedy about the death of a child.

This is really a shame, because Bethany Ann Lind and Matthew Myers make the Larks such an appealing couple at the start that it’s hard to believe they’d be the type to look for Reality TV relief. Sure, their situation is difficult, but it is far from desperate. That the script believes their only option is TV sell-out is a sign their creator hasn’t thought through the realities of unemployment and overextended bills, but just wants to exploit a contemporary situation for cheap laughs. That producer Shelby Whitstone is written as a totally reprehensible cretin who even the amazingly talented LaLa Cochrane cannot make likeable is a sign he’s more interested in vilifying Hollywood with a waxwork caricature than in making a real villain for our hapless couple to engage.

The farcical elements in Act One never take off – three “minions” of the producer play a gaggle of differently costumed faux “buyers,” but the script requires them to leap from character to character with a frequency and transparency that makes the scene laughless, and it sinks like a stone. When a real buyer makes an offer, it was almost a relief that the frenetic cavorting comes to a halt.

Then we get to the treacly mess that is Act Two. The “buyer,” a widow with her young daughter, reveals she was under contract as much as the Larks. She comes into the house (in a totally unbelievable way) and has to confront Ms. Lind’s Bryn Lark. Completely discarding the dark farce of the first act, Mr. Dean’s script now tries to make his characters actually acknowledge what the economy has done to them and their lives, but it is shallow, and the discussion too often just sets up a weak gag or a false “heart-tug” moment. It says virtually nothing about the economy or how people in this situation should act in response. And the script has to rely on a badly motivated character conversion and a Deus Ex Machina tree collapse to actually resolve the plot threads for a sorta kinda ending.

As I said above, the cast is uniformly excellent, and gives the production a charm that only dissipates after the realities of the situation have sunk in. There are some amusing (if not laugh-out-loud) moments, and, I didn’t hate the show completely. Scenic Designer Britt Hultgren Ramroop has created a nicely elegant living room set, but the video additions don’t add much of anything for me, and the post-curtain-call “Behind the Scenes” video vignettes were largely unintelligible.

And, to be fair, the play has potential. I think Reality TV may be a too-easy target for satire, and the comedy to be found in the Larks’ distress needs either the commitment of a truly dark vision or the more gentle approach that acknowledges the very real problems inherent in their struggle. A few of the characters can stand a little more development, a little more “voice” (too many of the characters talk with distressingly similar styles and vocabularies), and, a little less caricature.

And it needs to be more focused, to commit to either farce or character-based humor. Jumping from one to the other is just irritating and reduces the plausibility of both to almost zero.

I think Aurora is to be commended for taking a chance on a World Premiere, and for giving this particular piece a polished and professional veneer. To be fair, my expectations may have been sabotaged by the subject matter, and the audience I was with had a positive buzz as they were leaving (I assume it was a “laughing on the inside” sort of pleasure, as the audible laughs were few and far between).

Still, I can’t help feeling a lot of sympathy for the Larks, and not a little disdain for those who would exploit them, Mr. Dean included.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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Home Wrecker
by Mama Alma
Friday, October 23, 2009
3.0
Most of my problems with this production stem from the play itself. In short, a very pregnant couple needs to sell their house quickly. Their real estate agent, Peter, gets them a gig on one of those "stage your house and sell it fast" shows, which is more a vehicle for its diva star Shelby than it is a DIY demonstration. In this framework, I think Dean was going for "a house does not a home make" but too many side trips ruined the through line.

Doyle Reynolds (Peter) and La La Cochran (Shelby) try gamely to prop up the show, which just never feels like it's quite there. Reynolds is superb as a kind of hyperkinetic wind up doll, kow towing (literally) to the magnificence of Cochran's celebrity. Cochran has great stage presence and plays Shelby as a predatory diva/cougar/guru/fixer. When the play stays on Reynolds and Cochran, or even when it's on the young married couple, the Larks, it's workable, but the entire subplot with the wife's dad just pulls focus. Why not have the DIY diva go after the husband? This is not at all a comment on Bart Hansard, who was quite good as the father, very reminiscent of Mark Addy (A Knight's Tale; Game of Thrones). I'm just commenting that the role of the wife's father, with the wife's attendant hangups about him seemed superfluous to the play.

While sweetly affecting in her role as the pregnant young wife Bryn, Bethany Anne Lind was unfortunately at times inaudible. As a previous reviewer noted, some of the best laughs in the play come from the young couple's attempts to clean up their language in anticipation of their "new arrival," and Lind certainly made me believe there was genuine affection (and some irritation) there for her husband Tim (a very capable Matthew Myers), enough certainly to make the pregnancy plausible, which is why it was all the more upsetting when her voice disappeared. When she rose up to protect her home, when she got mad, when she objected to being patronized, she was wonderful. But I don't think she needed to be quite so tentative earlier to make her transition into Protector of the Hearth work.

The play also ends on a curiously flat note, with a sweet little moral and metaphorical passing of the baton to the next generation. Here again, if the role of the wife's father were eliminated, Bryn, having reasserted the natural order of things and protected her family, could have as easily handed said baton directly to Tim, placing him in co-ownership of Home. The imposition of her father, rather than strengthening, I thought, diluted this nuclear bond.

The muddied ending was further muddled by the after play video clips. Most were inaudible. None were funny, with the very notable exception of, again, Reynolds and Cochran. The very first clip was very funny, and would have sufficed as an acerbic comment on the real relationships I think Dean was trying to highlight, and ended the play with a light epilogue. The cast comments however, seemed totally out of place, and having sat through the first couple, one felt trapped into staying through to the end of them. I believe they were meant as "exit music" so treat them as such.
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Milking Delightful!
by playgoer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
4.0
"Buy My House...Please!" is a sprightly new play that is enjoying its world premiere at the Aurora. It's not quite all there yet, but it is entertaining. The plot and characters have been brought together, play well with one another, but don't quite meld seamlessly. In act two particularly, the plot takes precedence, and things get wrapped up a bit abruptly.

What's the plot about? A young married couple with a child on the way run into financial difficulties and are convinced to allow the marketing of their house to be documented on an HGTV-type show. The main complication involves a decorative urn containing the ashes of the wife's deceased mother, but not "containing" in the way you'd expect. What happens? The wife's father shows up unexpectedly. The house is spiffed up for selling. Potential buyers go through the house, and one makes an offer.

Kristyl Tift and Qayla Shipp winningly play the buyer and her daughter. Ms. Tift has a very natural delivery that helps make her somewhat underwritten character come to life. Qayla Shipp comes across as a very likeable child. The potential buyers (and other roles) are played by a trio of "lackeys." They all do fine in their multiple roles, although their quick-change disguises are used for more comic effect than reality would permit.

The married couple are played by Bethany Anne Lind and Matthew Myers. Bethany Anne Lind is very successful in her portrayal, which requires frequent emotional outbursts. Her natural sweetness balances her character's frustrations nicely, and her efforts to avoid profanity lead to several good laughs. (The title of this review reflects one of these efforts.) Matthew Myers is less successful in a role that requires him often to act as a balancing mechanism among the many conflicts onstage.

The most entertaining performances are by Doyle Reynolds, as a realtor with limited telegenic qualities, and LaLa Cochran, as the diva-like star of the TV show. There's a lot of physical comedy in Doyle Reynolds' performance, and he's a master at it. LaLa Cochran is playing a high-powered woman much like the one she played in "The Little Dog Laughed," but with a clean mouth. She does a splendid job of it.

The character of Shelby Whitstone (LaLa Cochran's role) is made a bit problematic in the casting of the show. She is introduced as being flirtatious with her young intern, then later has an immediate attraction to the schlubby Bart Hansard, playing the wife's father. It doesn't make a lot of sense that she would lust after an unseen young intern, reject a young black male assistant, then treat a pudgy, middle-aged man as God's gift to women of a certain age. Other than seeming to be miscast according to the script, Bart Hansard does a fine job in his role, although the logistics of his shacking up with a woman following his wife's death are a bit murky.

The casting isn't the only thing that seems to have ignored specific references in the script. The script makes multiple mentions of the house as being brick, but the gable hanging from the proscenium is some sort of clapboard. That adds a bit of unnecessary confusion. The set design, with its disconnected walls and beams and one replaceable panel, while attractive to look at, gives away some of the scenic effects that come late in the play.

As part of the show, the furniture and set pieces are supposed to be rearranged for the staging of the house, readying it for sale. The rearrangement is perfunctory and adds nothing to the appeal of the room. The contrast between "before" and "after" would have benefited from worse room set-up at the start (perhaps a sofa back blocking the front door, which each new person would collide with), and from more colorful personal items cluttering the set at the start.

Certain scenes use a hand-held video camera whose images are projected on the stage. These images are supposedly used in the TV show. The actor operating the camera, though, doesn't capture very usable video. It looks too slap-dash.

Video is used from the beginning of the show (Anthony Rodriguez's introductory speech) to the end (video outtakes and interviews after the play ends). The sound levels are problematic, with some during the show being muddied and overloud, while the video interviews at the end are too soft to hear. The outtakes and interviews really belong at a cast party, for the private enjoyment of those involved in the production. The audience sits through them and gets nothing out of them. It ends the performance on a baffling low note.

I've already touched on the relatively clean language in the show. I admire the way it's done. There is one s-word that slips from the wife's mouth in the second act, but it's appropriate, given that the first act set up the fact that she is trying to clean up her mouth in anticipation of her baby's arrival. Frustrations have risen to such a level in act two that she slips up. It gives a laugh and avoids offense.

If inoffensive enjoyment is your thing, "Buy My House...Please!" would be a good choice for a visit. The show moves along briskly with an accomplished cast, and you'll leave satisfied (if you skip those video interviews at the end). [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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