This American Idol-inspired black comedy explores how society sells itself out
In 2008, a Paula Abdul superfan slash stalker auditioned for American Idol. After being roundly mocked for her performance, she died by suicide in front of Abdul’s house, in a car that was an exact replica of the one in the ‘Rush, Rush’ music video.
This story is the inspiration for Christopher Bryant’s Home Invasion, which splinters off from this through-line into a bigger exploration of the commodification of women, celebrity, and sexuality. The mechanic (Yure Covich) that hooked June (Kate Cheel) up with the car? His wife Carol (Morgan Maguire) is haunted by dreams of JonBenet Ramsey. He’s also involved in a statutory-rape-esque relationship with Sam (Chloe Bayliss), a teenager who is trying to figure out her identity – and her power – in a world that seems obsessed with her body.
Directed by Alexander Berlage with knowing, midnight-black humour and a dash of camp, Home Invasion is a play that looks around at broken people and complex neuroses, then shrugs and dares us to rob those people of their humanity. It’s a contemporary read of both pop culture and broader human culture, especially at the intersection of celebrity and modern myth-making. There’s a violent tinge to it all because women are frequently subject to violence, both from audiences and those closest to them; society has a tendency to devour women and abandon them when they have nothing sexy or fun left to give. How to tackle that rise in terms we understand?
Bryant and Berlage have their ways. The action flicks from scene to scene like you might restlessly click from browser tab to browser tab; occasionally the autoplay spills over into the next window but it feels right here: that noise of considering all the options, trying to consume it all simultaneously. Even June’s blog is given voice and character (she’s played by Wendy Mocke), and it seems right that even the American Idol judges appear and critique the goings-on. Some scenes are played out with variations and different outcomes: in this play, the lines between reality and wishful thinking are frequently blurred until they are abruptly, and sometimes harshly, clearly delineated.
On a pop-of-colour set (by Jeremy Allen) and candy-club lights (also by Berlage), Home Invasion feels both playful and carefully controlled. Ellen Stanistreet’s costume design is peak-2000s meets the live-action Josie and the Pussycats movie, with a nod towards daytime soaps for flavour.
Berlage corrals these elements into essential support for his cast of actors, who aren’t afraid to go big. Cheel is winningly dissociative as June, heart-breaking and over-brimming with pathos, and Bayliss brings steel-backed vulnerability to her teenage schoolgirl. Maguire has some of the funniest lines as Carol, and she delivers by blending naivety with sudden insight; her therapist (Cecilia Morrow) completes the comic double act.
For a play to balance dark, worrying concerns about consumer and patriarchal brutalism with a laugh-heavy pop confection is no easy feat, and this production of Home Invasion comes together like a dream. You’ll never have more fun exploring the many ways our society sells itself out.