When you go to see a play by Theresa Rebeck you can generally be assured that it will be a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theater.
But not this time.
Our House, currently having its West Coast premiere at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood, is an over-the-top dramedy about the dumbing-down of the news, reality TV, the obsession with ratings and the bottom line, and a quartet of 20-somethings who squabble like 12-year-olds.
Merv (Kyle Ingleman) is the protagonist (or more precisely, the antagonist) among the four housemates. He is a sloth, flopping on the couch and watching reality TV 24/7. Hes three months behind in his share of the rent, wont get off his butt to help around the house, and eats everybody elses food.
Which really aggravates Alice (Rachel Germaine), Grigsby (Jennifer Kenyon), and Vince (JB Waterman).
Meanwhile, Wes (Mark Belnick), the head of the TV network, fulminates about having to broadcast news when he could be broadcasting even more reality TV. He finds a partial solution by giving his inamorata Jennifer (Ajerae Coleman), the face of the morning news, her own reality show. The show, called Our House, is a recognizable clone of the dreadful CBS show Big Brother.
Julie Chen should sue.
Wes, in a series of scathing monologues, reduces TV to the numbers listeners and profits. Staying informed is optional, he says. TV makes us real. TV is hyper-reality.
Despite the protestations of Stu (Patrick Hancock), the head of the news department The human race is more important than the numbers, he argues Wes would like to cancel the news altogether.
Or, better yet, have Jennifer present it in the nude.
Unfortunately, the Lounge Theatres stage is a very small space, and set designer Dan Mailley has had to squeeze two disparate sets into it. Most of it is comprised of the apartment of the four housemates. Then downstage left is the area where Wes delivers his rambunctious diatribes and at the rear is the broadcast area where Jennifer delivers the news and the latest updates on the reality TV show.
Ironically, I kept anticipating that the four housemates would turn out to be the actual participants of the TV show, much like the clever 1998 movie The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey was living his life on TV without being aware of it. But that isnt what Rebeck had in mind.
And so it was left to lighting designer Matt Richter to differentiate the activity by his dramatic lighting effects, so you could tell who was doing what where.
In the end the two halves of the play converge in a surprising (and rather silly) twist. No spoiler alert here.
To give credit where its due, Rebeck is a master of amusing dialogue and interesting plot lines, as in her TV hit Smash and her scripts for such recent L.A. theater favorites as The Waters Edge and Poor Behavior.
Our House, however, is not one of her best, even though it has the benefit of good direction by Kiff Scholl and first-class performances by everyone most especially by Germaine as the overwrought Alice.
Our House, produced by Wasatch Theatrical Ventures and Theatre Planners, will continue at The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., in Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through Aug. 5. Call (323) 960-7773 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.