Monday, May 18, 2009

Dream Home, Dobama Theatre

(Cathy Albers as Joan)

Back in the 1950s, kids would watch educational films showing how Communism was on the march, as red flowed further and further into neighboring countries. You could use the same graphics, superimpose it on Cleveland, and use it to describe the effects of abandoned homes and foreclosures caused by the current real estate crisis.

Of course, any subject so freighted with emotion makes a fine subject for the stage. And Dobama Theatre is answering the call with Dream/Home, a work they commissioned from playwright Sarah Morton as Part II of their Cleveland Plays series. Structured as a series of monologues, all delivered by local people who are connected to one individual foreclosure event, the piece is surprisingly subtle and deeply felt on an emotional level.

It all starts less than auspiciously as the putative narrator, a banker named Arthur, addresses the audience and once again drags out the tired, beat-to-death “Moses Cleaveland/the “a” was dropped/divided city/yadda yadda” song and dance. Note to any playwrights who, in the future, write about our fair burg and are tempted to rehash Moses: We get it, move on.

Arthur (played with affecting sensitivity by George Roth) appears a few more times, but all the other character appearances are one-shot deals. A nicely greasy Fabio Polanco kicks it off by portraying a mortgage broker who is eager to push through the adjustable rate home loan for Margaret, a schoolteacher.

From there, we meet the next-door neighbor who is tending the yard for the absent homeowner (rendered with perfect specificity by Anne McEvoy) and a realtor who is trying to unload the property (Tom White in a crisply amusing turn).

Whether it’s Margaret’s daughter (Alexis Floyd), who’s trying desperately to hold onto her job as a barista at the local coffee shop, or another neighbor (Rodney Freeman) who must deal with the increase in crime sparked by empty houses on his street, the effects keep multiplying.

Morton skillfully crafts these set pieces, including enough ancillary information about each character so that they don’t seem like linked rants. At one point, Arthur recalls his childhood in the Depression and remembers he was “afraid of wasting even a breath.”

One of the best monologues is delivered by Cathy Albers, who plays Joan, the wife of a retiring bank executive. Looking like a great pick for the cast of The Real Housewives of Gates Mills, Albers is bitchy, touchy, and a bit desperate as she feels her world shifting under her.

Directed with sensitivity by Sonya Robbins, Dream/Home is solid but less than perfect. While various sides of the problem are referenced—the greed of both sleazy lenders and buyers looking for a get-rich-quick windfall—it might help if there was a stronger point of view. This catastrophe is too large, and too destructive, to be simply used as a platform for personal musings, even ones as precise and well-sculpted as these.

The set design by Todd Krispinsky is quite effective, a composition of doors artfully positioned in a heap, even though it mirrors (or is an homage to) a nearly identical set done by Trad A. Burns for Gold Star at Cleveland Public Theatre last year.

By the time we meet Margaret, played with deft resignation and a touch of hope by Lisa Langford, we have a clear picture of the ways in which many lives have been affected. But, once again, accountability is denied. Not because it isn’t called for, but because the misdeeds were so widespread it’s almost impossible to effectively assign blame.

But we should try. Especially in the theater, we should try.

Through June 7, produced by
Dobama Theatre at the Brooks Theatre,
Cleveland Play House, 216-932-3396

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