The main character in Daniel MacIvor’s minimalist play HOUSE has a few things to share with us: he’s got a crappy job, no real friends, an uncommunicative wife, a mother possessed by the devil, and a sister who’s dating a dog.
He’s got every reason to feel isolated, yet he’s far from alone since he’s got us, the audience, and he’s perfectly aware that we’re there. It would be pretty hard for him not to notice since the director, Tara Matkosky, has us all sitting around in a circle, like campers around a bonfire or patients in a therapy session. The scene is immediately unsettling.
“House” is a monologue by a man who’s figuring out that his biggest problem is himself. He’s decided to share his story of disappointment and humiliation with us, and it’s a funny, sad and sometimes harrowing ride.
Tim Spears is stark and brilliant as Victor. It’s an incredibly difficult part demanding that the actor find inspiration within his own words, his thoughts and the mute observation of the audience. It’s such a personal performance, one has to continually remind oneself that he’s not the author. He inhabits Victor so completely, it’s hard to imagine him playing any other role.
MacIvor gives Spears some great material to work with. The author has a passion for language and a devilish sense of humor (only a word-lover would see the beauty of naming a total loser “Victor”) and Victor loves to roll words around in his head just as he loves to roll a little imaginary ball between his fingers. In fact, if the show has a message it’s about the power of using creativity and humor as a weapon against the slings and arrows of life. If only Victor had a little more control over when his imagination kicks in. Still, when life becomes a nightmare, only a dream can be your salvation.
Although Victor feels impotent, Spears’ performance is commanding and immediately engaging; you’ve got to take notice of a performer who can bring a chill to the room just by announcing the fire exits. Victor is clearly losing grip on reality, but his panic and frustration become his best tools in controlling his environment. It makes sense that even as he sinks into despair, a snap of his fingers can alter his universe, or at least the lights in the theater. Spears does more then just present a role -- he creates a mood that fills the house and then unapologetically inhabits it. I could see the audience members across the circle from me squirming with discomfort; I’m sure they could see me do the same. It’s raw and revealing performance, but Spears is ultimately rewarding to watch.
Victor may feel alone in his plight, but anyone familiar with 20th century theater and literature will see his relatives everywhere: His ‘Great Uncle” Willy Loman, working desperately to be ‘well liked’ by his boss; his ‘cousin’ Jerry looking for a sympathetic ear for his psychotic rants in Albee’s Zoo Story; there’s even a bit of Ken Kesey’s Chief Bromden, the way psychotic fantasies cross over into real life revealing greater truths.
With a production this ‘tight’ it’s difficult tease out where to give credit in the production. There is no visable set, short of the hodge-podge of chairs that represent the audience seating, and the sound includes a single music cue. But kudos to Eleanor Khan and Sound Design by Stephen Dee for their asceticism. Heather Skye Sparling’s lights are wonderfully effective, taking advantage of “up” lighting at the edges of the large room, at times leaving Spears as nothing but a shadow and a disembodied voice.
The show is demanding on the actor but also makes demands on the audience. This show asks you to listen, engage and empathize with this all too faulted character. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s ultimately illuuminating. Why should we care for someone as admittedly “f**ked up” as Victor? Willy Loman’s wife said it best:
“He's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid.”