Sunday, April 7, 2019

Review of Tiny Houses @ the Cleveland Play House

THEATER REVIEW: “Tiny Houses” @ Cleveland Play House by Laura Kennelly

Photos by Roger Mastroianni

Through Sun 4/14

Ever want to run away? Leave city stress behind? Chelsea Marcantel’s comic new play, Tiny Houses, at the Cleveland Play House, shows one witty take on this impulse in a perfectly paced production directed by Laura Kepley.

The set, constructed while we watch in the Outcalt Theatre, consists of a vacant lot plus a trailer big enough to support a small house. During the course of the play, the actors (and their assistants) assemble a real tiny house. This solves a familiar challenge playwrights face — what to have their characters doing while they deliver the dialogue and actions that really run the story. Marcantel has come up with one perfect solution, at least in the hands of Cleveland Play House technical directors Devin Gallo and Liam Roth; carpenters Cayla DeStefano, Andy Rowland, and Kaleb Yandrick; and scenic artists Brendan Kelly, Jennifer Hitmar Shankland. Other members of the design team included Arnulfo Maldonado, Elizabeth Mak and Joanna Lynne Staub.

The uniformly convincing and persuasive cast adds the necessary element of delight as we watch New York City native and financial diva Cath (Kate Eastman) and her boyfriend Bohdi (Peter Hargrave) after they move to the far west. Why do they move? Bohdi (who has little money) has convinced Cath that they should move back to his hometown in Oregon so that they can live a more authentic life in the woods. In a tiny house.
Lucky for them Bohdi’s old friend (Michael Doherty) lets them live with him while they build the house. Soon Ollie’s former girlfriend Jevne (a delightfully ditzy Nandita Shenoy), appears — all eager to help (and, as one might expect when old girlfriends meet new ones, complications ensue).
To combat her feelings of helplessness Cath soon hires Jeremiah, a construction supervisor (aka the handyman one always dreams of having around). The handsome, athletic James Holloway, playing the only one on stage who has the slightest idea about building a house, soon becomes indispensable to the inept housebuilders. He’s like the hero in a western who appears just in time to rescue the pioneer settlers (in this case not from hostile elements, but from themselves). We fall for him.

Amy Clark’s clever costumes amplify the characters’ personalities. For example, unlike Eastman (whose Cath wears practical NYC clothes and colors), Shenoy’s Jevne gets to  sport colorful outfits, including leggings which feature Frida Kahlo faces.
BOTTOM LINE: As it turns out, building a tiny house may be as complicated as building a huge house. One thing for sure: both always take longer, require more decision, and complicate life in unimaginable and (for an audience), entertaining ways.

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