Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Rob Curran, Fri., June 29, 2001
House: Master Builder
Hyde Park Theatre,
through June 30
Running Time: 1 hr, 10 min.
Ken Webster brings the house down, starting with the fourth wall, in House, a one-man drama from Subterranean Theatre Company and Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre. As soon as he enters, Webster is Victor -- Victor being himself. Webster chucks his life as Victor into the audience like a piece of furniture.
In Daniel MacIvor's script, each line is as crafty as Victor's ironic name. This Victor is a septic tank salesman burying a shitload of anger. A number of people make him angry: his therapy group facilitator ("Call me Joe"), a mother in front of him in the checkout line who has a cartful of Fruit Loop packets, his boss and the new guy at work ("They're practically all over each other"), and, naturally, his family.
Overshadowed by his father, a septic tank legend, Victor sought to please his mother by his choice of career and wife. At her behest, he married his third cousin Mary-Ann. "Mistake," he growls. Victor's sister, a serial wife who prefers annulment to divorce, betrayed him when she became emotionally attached to a dog.
Alone onstage, Victor tells how "house" could have been his word of the week for a lifetime of group: a story of unrequited love, ambition, septic tanks, salvation, a story of digressions. In storytelling tradition, the digressions are the highlights. Pastoral departures come under a blue light, rants under a red light, thanks to Zach Murphy's lighting and stage design. These asides include: Why engineers have great lives, Mother as the devil, What the realtor learned about love.
Breaking out of the box, Webster runs off the stage at one point like an escaped python and roars his lines from an unusual location. He takes his time coming back to join the audience in the stalls. Accepting Victor's extremes from irate to weepy, Webster looks like at least two different people in the course of the play. The actor wins a smile from Victor's tragedy and treats the laughable aspects of his life with compassion.
Throughout, director Peck Phillips chips away at the wall of tradition between the stage and the audience. He manages interaction with the audience but does not humiliate anyone. Do something in my theatre, implies Phillips; if you want to just sit there, go to the cinema.
It is all in the telling. MacIvor avoids clichés and builds 10-story images. Working so hard on minutiae, the playwright may have neglected the story design: After the perfect setup, the peak disappoints a little.
By animating invisible characters through hilarious stories, Daniel MacIvor begins construction next door to Conor McPherson. Webster brings the house down, then he builds new theatre for the audience. Peck Phillips keeps the lines plumb and takes care of all the angles; Ken Webster is the demolition crew and the Master Builder. To enjoy a master at work, House at the Hyde Park Theatre would make a good visit.