THE OPEN HOUSE

Sticks and Stones Theatre, at Havana Theatre, until Jan 26

My Two Pence

It takes admirable bravery to write a single act 90 minute play, and even more to successfully produce it.  The Open House is Will Eno's concept play, showcasing two facets of family life in a clashing juxtaposition of intense drama and unsounded heartache.  Director Alan Brodie captures the oddities of every family in this well executed production, which leaves you yearning to find out more.  Passages of elaborate dialogue flowed naturally from each performer, with few concrete cues for them to grasp, leading to  intentionally awkward and agonising digressions. This Sticks & Stones Theatre production accurately frames the randomness and frustrating absence of closure in a normal family life.  

 

The Havana theatre provides an interesting challenge for the production team, but it was used effectively for The Open House.  The well designed set, spread about the small space, amplified the silences and intensity, making you feel as if you yourself had a seat in the living room alongside the cast.  The immersion into this family's world should be exemplified for other productions using small theatres to create a similarly intimate ambience.

 

Anita Wittenberg's tremendous performance of the Mother beautifully captures a familiarity to be found in all of our mothers.  Wittenberg creates such an authentic portrayal of her character by continuously betraying her inner thoughts on her face, however shallow or distant, and replaying the previous conversation threads over in her mind.  The resultant fragility formed a truly believable character.  

 

The quiet unrest of this family is seen most clearly through the eyes of the Daughter, played by Melissa Oei.  She is affected most by the tragedy of the situation, wishing to break the silence, share her fears and stop the maddening reserve.  Oei's intensely emotive performance was utterly remarkable, having few words to say, but so much to show.  I was brought to the brink of tears watching her hold back her frustration and worry, wishing for some validation or even just a reaction.  

 

Towards the end of the story, each family member is gradually replaced with a character in opposite to their original, allowing the actors to demonstrate their range in character portrayal.  Melissa Oei's transformation from Daughter to Realtor blew the audience away.  She returned to the stage as a bright and brassy burst of personality, barely recognisable from her previous affected role.  I believe this was exactly the intent of the playwright; showing a stark contrast in two characters who could have easily been the same person in the past.

 

At the close of the play the audience is left wondering what the point of it all was?  Why present this family drama, where not one plot point is resolved.  There are many tantalising details and moments which are never raised again, leaving you hanging without answer, in eternal anticipation.  This is in fact the point.  The struggling dynamics of the emotionally repressed family leaves each member with unsatisfied relationships.  The unspoken elephant in the room is never addressed, and it is heartbreaking to see this for each of the characters.  There is no happy ending.  There is no ending whatsoever.  The story itself is not important, what is important is that this piece of art has left you with the same yearning for closure that undoubtedly was yearned for by this family, particularly by the Daughter and the Son.  This production creates an effective narrative who's intent is to gifting you that which it represents, the inconclusive mess of reality.

 

- Irving Bolton