Transport Group’s House for Sale is a fascinating exercise in staged reading. It is based on a piece that might seem impossible to render as theater: Jonathan Franzen’s personal essay, the first chapter of his collection The Discomfort Zone, about selling his childhood home in Missouri after his mother’s death. But director-adapter Daniel Fish delivers the essay word for word, embracing its inherent literariness. His opening gambit evokes the experience of trying to get into a book: starting over several times, skimming more quickly with each new effort and getting subtly struck by different passages. And as House for Sale moves forward, the actors shed layers of neutral clothing to reveal costumes underneath, suggesting the way characters on a page gradually take firmer shape in our minds.
These, at least, are my readings of Fish’s conceptual gestures, which deliberately stimulate active engagement with his choices. House for Sale uses its low-tech, metatheatrical style to destabilize the text with idiosyncratic semiotics-class stratagems. The five game actors (Rob Campbell, Lisa Joyce, Merritt Janson, Christina Rouner and Michael Rudko) have been given differently colored lightbulbs that cue them when it’s their turn to speak; each night they deliver different sections of the script, assigned on the spot. Yet Franzen’s savory, self-lacerating text—which laments a middle-American idyll he had never appreciated, and bristles at the shallowness of his mourning—rarely gets lost in the stage-craftiness. As you marvel at or puzzle over Fish’s underlines and highlights, the words themselves hold your attention.—Adam Feldman
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