Monday, January 14, 2013

Metropolitan Ensemble "Housebreaking" review by BobEvans

Housebreaking = Broken House Rating: 4

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

An evening of theatre means patrons will peek in on the
lives of others, struggling to make sense of the game
of life that confronts each character. Without
dysfunction or broken persons, somewhere within the
piece, the comedy, drama, tenderness, love and reality
that audiences view just would not develop.
Housebreaking, the current production at the
Metropolitan Ensemble Theater, (MET) looks in on four
characters wrestling individual realities to find

The show, not seen before in Kansas City, does not
follow a predictable pattern by any means. After Act
I, no one knows where the play till take the audience
in Act II or how the theme resolves. But, count on a
talented cast and good direction to lead audiences
through a difficult piece of literature. Henry David
Thoreau, the original American Hippie, left
civilization in the early 1800s to experience life and
find true meaning of life. His mantra of "simplify,
simplify, simplify" comes into play in this play,
Housebreaking. Thoreau left normal life to live among
nature and confront the reality of his life in New
England at Walden Pond. No, Thoreau is not a character
in the play, but his ideas certainly are. Two
characters from Housebreaking confront the harsh
cruelty and struggles of life as they confront the
elements from seemingly opposite directions.

In Housebreaking, the four characters exist on separate
planes, and their interactions and positions in life
create the piece's message, which finally comes full
circle in the last scene. The story involves two
siblings, their father, and the stranger from the
streets. From there, the dysfunction, reality, and
character interactions unfold before the audience.

The central character, Chad, played by Bryan Moses
dislikes his position in life and dares to know the
meaning of life for himself. Carmine, portrayed by
Forrest Attaway, knows the meaning of his life and
wants better. Magda's (Missy Fennewald) life seems
stuck in neutral and she remains pivotal to the three
other characters. Dad, convincingly played by Robert
Elliott, lives in a separate reality plane brought on
by booze, a touch of Alzheimer's, possible Parkinson's,
and a touch of insanity thrown in... just for good

Moses brings a face and persona to the questions
everyone faces. His character, Chad, wants to know:
What if? How? Why? And, his character discovers
reality by returning to basics. Even his name, Chad, a
country in Africa, elicits wonder from the viewers.
What is Chad? Where is Chad? What is life like in
Chad? How is Chad significant in the world? All these
questions plague the character and Moses grasps an
understanding of Chad's character and the inner
conflict he confronts. Every expression, gesture,
movement create a character that really dwells within
everyone. He bring out the fear of taking a leap of
faith into the unknown. His performance is compelling
and his acting solid.

As for the other end of the spectrum, Carmine lived his
reality already, and he cannot impart his wisdom to
Chad, who needs to learn by confronting his own life to
answer his own questions. Attaway brings an easy-going
characterization to Carmine and several light moments
to his responses to the chances given him. Once
Carmine settles into the mix, his character grows from
light to serious as he fights to hold on the scrap of
his new life and reality.

Finnewald's Magda is the glue between all the
characters. She cares for her dad, for her brother
Chad, and eventually Carmine. She also faces the
struggles of where life leads. Her character is
trapped between all the other three. She must remain
strong and care for her father. She must work, keep
the house, balance the tensions, and hold the other
characters together. Finnewald provides a great
balance for the other characters. When not the focus
of the scene, she reacts to the comedy and drama
developing around her. Her character does not change
as dictated by the script. She must remain the rock of
the piece. And, Finnewald delivers a strong
performance and moves deftly between the light and dark
demands of the play.

The comedy of the piece mostly comes from the character
of Dad and the apt delivery of the character by Robert
Elliott. Each time he enters, his larger than life
characterization draws the audience focus. Elliott's
performance is driven by his understanding of the
character and the fact that he lives in a precarious
teeter-totter of his past memories and his current
"now." Beer, food, shelter, broadcast sports matches
(especially soccer), and a monthly check are his
reality. Dad's life is mostly past; his reality
already lived; his present is constant; his future is
unknown. Elliott's rendition of this character allows
the audience to see both the humor and sadness in the
character. Some of the comedy comes from his persona;
some of the sadness also develops here. He is what the
audience fears awaits them at some point. Elliott's
masterful performance awaits future audiences.

In all, director Bob Paisley assembled a great cast to
bring the Jacob Holder piece to life. His vision of
the characters and the direction of their performance
gives movement and meaning to the piece. Audiences
will enjoy Housebreaking for the acting, but may leave
with questions about the resolution. If Holder wanted
audiences to leave and have to think about what they
viewed, he succeeded. The play moves to an apt
conclusion but makes viewers wonder about their plight.

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