The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, September 15, 2006, Arts

The Muses: Memories of a House

Home of Helen Roberts, through Sept. 17

Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min

You'll find lots of nice homes in the hills west of MoPac off 2222, but I'd be surprised if you found any nicer than the one belonging to Helen Roberts. Roberts believes that every home should be dedicated to something, and she has dedicated hers to the muses, those spirits that have inspired artists from time immemorial. Inside and out, each area is, in a sense, a work of art, designed both to please the eye and for a specific purpose. Take the library: a large space with a table in the center and three walls covered from top to bottom with books – a room dedicated to nurturing the mind. Or the kitchen: a wide-open space with a lovely fireplace on one wall, trimmed in red and gold and framed in stone – a place of family and feeding the body. Or the kitchen porch: pink and lavender plants on every rail, vines draped above with a dove's nest nestled among them, surrounded by trees as far as the eye can see – a place to nourish the soul. Every room dedicated to a reaching out and a returning. Every room an interaction and an inspiration.

I don't know what or who it was – Calliope or Thalia or Melpomene – that inspired Roberts to offer her home to the Vestige Group, one of Austin's newest theatre companies, but I'm glad she did. Certainly theatre has been offered in homes before, but I'd be surprised if so many pieces – 13 – have been offered by so many playwrights – 13 again – in a single home. One piece is offered in every room, and two pieces, my favorites, are offered outdoors. In "Here Be Dragons," a young woman, played by Jen Brown sitting by a garden house, speaks of the time she knows she saw a dragon and the subsequent concern this caused for her family. (On the night I attended, a dog – at least, I think it was a dog – yowled in a neighboring yard, adding a surprising depth to the story.) In "Garden Furniture," Evelyn Lalonde, sitting on the back porch and surrounded by greenery, talks about the effect of playing music for plants as she grooms a plant herself. A light rain fell as she spoke, her hands covered in earth, and the feeling I got from the piece and the air and the rain was indescribable. Not all the pieces come together so well – often director Susie Gidseg has her actors play as if they were in much larger spaces than the relatively small rooms they occupy – but when they do, it is theatrical magic.

Should you decide to attend, keep these things in mind: The seating is limited to 30, so be sure and make a reservation. The show begins at 7pm; if it's raining, you might want to bring an umbrella. Also, wear comfortable shoes, as you'll be doing some walking. Oh yes, and be ready to interact. Besides being a very social piece of theatre, you'll see actors everywhere, inside and out, and there's no telling when you might be in a scene yourself.

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