Theater review by Regina Robbins
The welcoming ensemble cast of Theater Mitu’s HOUSE or how to lose an orchard in 90 minutes or less greets you at the start of the show to help you test the headphones that you'll be wearing for the duration of the performance. This audio component, which features both live and prerecorded elements, puts you in a position of sharing an experience with your fellow audience members even as it isolates you from them—one of the many contradictions that characterize this appealing but vague production.
HOUSE interpolates a number of texts—Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, as well as vintage video, original music and transcripts of interviews—to examine the complex emotions involved in inhabiting, leaving and losing a home. In Chekhov’s play, aristocrats lament the forced sale of their family estate, the site of childhood joys and adult disappointments. The house and its grounds are suffused with personal memories, but they are also monuments to class privilege: the products of a lifestyle made possible only by the exploitation of the poor. HOUSE makes that theme of exploitation explicit by including testimony from people affected by the recent mortgage crisis in the U.S., in which families without means grasped—beyond their reach—at the chance to own their homes and, by extension, their histories.
As HOUSE interrogates American history and Western culture, it also strives to create an inclusive environment with ethereal interludes of music and movement. But although the set and video design are meticulous, the show’s observations about place, family and memory mostly seem somewhat familiar. The structural aspects are interesting, but you can hear an echo inside the piece. It’s a bit like a housewarming party to which the residents never arrive.
Theater Mitu (Off-Off Broadway). By Theater Mitu. Directed by Rubén Polendo. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.