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A CurtainUp Review
The Open House

" Why are we like this?".— DAUGHTER
 Open House
Peter Friedman and Carolyn McCormick (Photo: Joan Marcus)
My first encounter with Will Eno's work was The Flu Season. I was quite taken with this decidedly non-linear and enigmatic work as well as his various short plays (Oh, The Humanity and other exclamations ). I was less smitten with his much lauded monologues and therefore assigned the reviews to other Curtainup writers. ( Thom Pain (based on nothing) and Title and Deed ).

Eno's more recent plays have taken him in a welcome new direction: Full length more accessible to a broad audience plays that don't sacrifice the dark Eno-ness that tends to distance audience from generally easy to identify with characters because there's something slightly "off" about them.

Middletown applied Mr. Eno's vision to a modern day Our Town. His Middle American city even had its own version of Thornton Wilder's Town Manager, but its residents were tinged with a vaguely surreal aura. Open House, now having its world premiere at the Pershing Square Signature Center's Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, plucks a single family from another modern day urban setting. The answer to the daughter's question as to why her family came to be the way it is makes for Eno's at once funniest and saddest play to date.

The family whose home we visit is known only by generic names: Father (Peter Friedman), Mother (Carolyn McCormick), Daughter (Hannah Bos), Son (Danny McCarthy), Uncle (Michael Countryman). The older characters could be anywhere between fifty-eight and sixty--five. The son and daughter are late twenty-somethings. They're all gathered in a living room comfortably but not especially tastefully furnished (A well-earned shoutout for set designer Antje Ellermann)

The occasion for the family gathering is the parents' anniversary. But it takes just one look at the group's facial expressions and body language to sense that this isn't going to be an especially celebratory occasion.

The father's being in a wheelchair points to the possibility that this is a family in crisis. The awkward silences, the father's curmudgeonly putdowns of his wife, his children, his brother (the Uncle) quickly make it clear that we are in dysfunctional family play territory where even the family dog is unhappy.

While this is quite obviously a lower middle class home, the Father talks about disinheriting his offspring, indicating that the title may well be an accurate link to the real estate practice associated with house sales. Friedman's sensational portrayal of a man ailing not just physically but emotionally taps right into the Eno pattern of having his plots and people stray from the path of normalcy. The way Friedman taps into this Eno-like offbeat streak is matched by Carolyn McCormick's also disturbingly more than a little off Mother.

Friedman's character isn't wheelchair bound because of a temporary condition like a fractured leg, but has apparently suffered repeated heart attacks and strokes. His hostility could easily be a sign of developing Alzheimer's Disease. His not even remembering why his widowed brother (Countryman's Uncle) is living with them. McCormick's Mother is clearly in denial, dealing with her difficult husband, disappointing life with recollections of earlier and happier times. There are bits and pieces that reveal that things were indeed happier and more normal to account for the visiting children's willingness to ignore their Father's nastiness and to do what they can to ease the current situation in their former home.

Fortunately, every member of the cast is terrific in creating this blunt picture of a family totally unable to communicate — yet bound together by years of sharing a home. The work of the rest of the design team is also commendable.

But this is one of those plays that's hard to review without spoiling the pleasure of all who read this and take my advice to put Open House on their to-see list because it is definitely a fresh twist on the much done dysfunctional play genre. Much credit for the sad, funny and fun aspects that make the play's work so well is due to director Oliver Butler and the amazingly surprising and fluid way he lets this family get-together segue into what is essentially a second and more hopeful and even funnier play.

The cutting edge playwright even manages to use a sure-fire scene stealing clincher for his ending. All I'll say is that it's just one more reason for me to look forward to seeing Eno's upcoming Broadway premiere, The Realistic Joneses and for me to recommend that you catch Open House while you can. For readers who want all the details now, I've added Spoiler Alert Details after the production notes below.

The Open House by Will Eno
Directed by Oliver Butler
Cast: Hannah Bos, Michael Countryman, Peter Friedman, Danny McCarthy and Carolyn McCormick
Set Design: Antje Ellermann
Costume Design: Bobby Frederick Tilley II
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: M.L. Dogg
Stage Manager: Donald Fried
Running Time: One hour and twenty minutes, with no intermission
Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center 480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
From 2/11/14; opening 3/03/14; closing 3/31/14
All tickets for the initial run of the production are $25 as part of the Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 1st press performance.

The reason the program doesn't list the cast with the roles played alongside the actors' names is that they all play double roles, the second ones as healthy, happy counterparts of the generically named family. It turns out that the Father's talk about selling the house isn't just talk. On the same day that the family is gathered to celebrate the parents' anniversary, a realtor has also arranged to come over and pretty things up for an open house. Since Open House is staged without an intermission that means the dysfunctional characters we first meet, have to be gotten off the stage in full view of the audience so that they can return almost immediately for the open house. In short, unlike plays like Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain, there's no intermission for the actors from the first part to return as different versions of the previous characters. And so the anxious Daughter is now a peppy realtor; the ditzy and unhappy Mother is a potential new owner, and the sad sack widowed uncle is her happy husband. The son reappears as a contractor and the terminally ill and ill-natured father as the happy couple's supportive dad. And, yes, even the dog shows up!

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