A true story of love and historical preservation in the Depression-era Midwest is lacking in stakes.
In a Wisconsin mining town in the early 1930s, Bob Neal (Scott Patrick Sawa), a decorator, enlists the help of Edgar Hellum (Joe Anderson), a strapping drifter, to save a dilapidated Cornish cottage. Together they restore the house, bring tourism to the town, and fall in love.
Based on true events, Ten Dollar House is a tale of two love stories. The first is that of Bob and Edgar, whose closeted romance would have been forbidden at the time. Though their love is hid in plain sight for decades, their relationship is portrayed here with an inauthentic openness and expedition. The subtlety and nuance associated with blossoming romance is completely lost. Sawa’s bombastic Bob openly and immediately pursues Edgar with such a fervor that all of the tension and beauty of the relationship falters.
The second is a love letter to the town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and the century-old Cornish homes that were restored there. The play hinges on the idea that Bob and Edward have saved a vital piece of history and honored a truly special place. Unfortunately, the physical world of Mineral Point falls flat in Rick Kinnebrew and Martha Meyer's script. The town is described through clunky exterior plot devices (a reporter and a radio broadcast), never becoming a character of its own.
Unlike most Depression-era plays, and unlike most plays about closeted gays, Ten Dollar House has a happy ending. It’s a feel-good play with quite a bit of charm. Unfortunately, unlike the homes it champions, it’s lacking in authenticity.
Pride Films & Plays at Piccolo Theatre. By Rick Kinnebrew and Martha Meyer. Directed by Michael D. Graham. With Scott Patrick Sawa, Joe Anderson, Tom Chiola, Jean Marie Koon, Mindy Barber. Running time: 2 hrs; one intermission.