Why has the American Dream always seemed connected to the house in the suburbs with a white picket fence? The country was founded on the notion of the promise of a better life, but it wasn’t until after the 1920’s when that became intertwined with our need for material things with a home usually a primary goal. Over the years it has become the thing that we all must strive for or, what? We’re not really adults? Stephanie Alison Walker’s new play, American Home, which had its debut at Fremont Centre Theatre Saturday night, delves into these notions through the lens of the 2008 financial meltdown.
The bubble is about to burst, but the characters we meet are blissfully on their path of home ownership; from the bright eyed young couple buying their first home to a widow living through the consequences of a reverse mortgage, a successful preacher of a mega-church and more. As the bubble bursts and their worlds come crashing down around them, each has to come to grips with who they really are and what is truly important to them.
Walker’s characters certainly strike a chord; there is an authenticity to these stories that make the experience a visceral one. The sound design was so precise in placing you exactly in those tumultuous years that I felt my emotions just under the surface. 2008 feels way too close and there isn’t a person who wasn’t affected by the crash in one way or another; of course some more than others, many lost everything. And who are you when you’ve lost everything? Home tries to get at that truth and it succeeds. In the end, as depressing as this all may sound, Walker manages to find humor and yes, hope.
The set design is beautiful in its simplicity, using only raw wood framing and naked outdoor lighting fixtures to evoke the warmth and joy of each home. The acting of the ensemble, many of whom play multiple roles, is solid. Ozioma Akagha’s effusive enthusiasm is contagious enough that she draws you into her quest and keeps you rooting for her. She has terrific chemistry with Jono Eiland, as her beyond nervous, first time home buyer husband. Eiland brings an all too real shame, defiance and vulnerability to the role.
Bette Smith steals your heart as the “squatting in her own home” widow, Florence, and Marc Barnes brings pathos to the struggle of Robbie, the hometown sheriff tasked with removing Florence when the time comes.
Caroline Westheimer is tough as nails as a woman who resorts to chaining herself to her home and embodies everything you want a mother to be when she comes to the emotional rescue of her daughter. Jessica Kay Temple gives a raucously realistic portrayal of the prosperity preacher, inducing shout backs from the audience and Jon Snow was devastating as one of her flock who is bitterly disappointed.
Mel Green and Jennifer Adler are hysterical as tv anchors, truthful as a couple figuring out the best way to fire an employee and adept at stepping in and out of several very funny, true to life characters.
The direction and the play itself could be just a little tighter however director Kate Woodruff uses the space beautifully and evokes moments of pure emotion from her actors in key moments. It’s an altogether moving piece that strikes at the heart of who we are as Americans and more importantly who we are when it all falls apart.
American Home runs through September 24 at Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena. Thursdays – Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm. $25 general, $20 students/seniors/military. Group discounts available. www.littlecandleproductions.com (626) 497-8700.