It’s an old joke that dating can be dangerous business, but no more so then in the world premiere of Ike Holter‘s horror influenced, and thought provoking PUT YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER at the La Jolla Playhouse, now playing through June 30th.
Everyone has been on some bad dates, but for Caroline (Shannon Matesky) and Rolan (Behzad Dabu) their first (or third depending on what they each count as a date) features life threatening danger from an unknown sickness that is turning the community in on itself block by block. Though at first, neither are overly concerned about the news reports and this mysterious sickness. The trains are down making it more difficult for Rolan to get to the suburban home of Caroline’s parents for their date, and Caroline stocked up on water and juice boxes that were on “sale” before everything started closing down.
With Caroline’s parents away, the house affords them some privacy and security from the blaring sirens, sporadic news reports, and general odd behavior. As Caroline remarks to Rolan when he arrives, “”You heard the news, right? It’s weird out there.”
As is the way with the horror genre it’s just when the couple is flirting and getting together that an unexpected stranger appears to add a sense of danger. It’s Caroline’s neighbor Josephine (Linda Libby) who has come over to retrieve some of her items that were stolen from her car and dumped in Caroline’s yard. Though Caroline struggles to remember her at first, she quickly warms up to the neighbor and her chatty familiarity. The same cannot be said for Rolan, who regards Josephine with an ominous interloper as a bearer of bad news.
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown, the show has an energetic sense of fun mixed with an ever increasing eeriness, and suspense. It’s hard to keep a horror tone and tension in a live production, but this show is able to make that difficult trick look easy. Amanda Zieve‘s lighting and Victoria Deiorio‘s music play strong roles to the atmosphere and the underlying feeling of menace. The house and backyard designed by Arnel Sancianco are gorgeous and perfectly manicured, which projects both a sense of normalcy and a sense of something looming behind the perfect façade that might not be noticed until too late.
Matesky and Dabu are engaging and energetic performers, who handle the rapid and often funny dialogue with ease. The hyper, semi-neurotic pater mixed with social anxiety, and their individual quirks define their characters quickly and with clarity. You know who these adults are, and depending on which generation you belong to, you might be them. (Unless you’re Gen X, here as everywhere else they are ignored as a generation)
Matesky’s Caroline is smart, funny, and her monologues are infused with a sense of rhythm and musicality. Dabu’s Rolan is charming, and his street smart arrogance hides a more vulnerable side. The fluidity and seeming effortlessness of his physicality later in the show is especially impressive.
Libby, as Josephine is excellent as someone who starts off with a protective instinct that soon turns more malevolent. Honestly, to go on about the frenetic fun of the performance would only spoil some of the show’s events.
As the creeping sense of dread steadily increases, so does the awareness of the many social issues that are reflected in the show. Violence, racism, family, forgiveness, politics, and apathy to events not directly impacting them are all touched upon. In a world where everything is a cause, how much you can let slide when wave after wave of news and events threaten to overwhelm? “I used to have a line” Caroline says, of when she would take action before admitting that she’s moved it multiple times.
The show is propelled by its energetic cast and story, but it would be helpful if the main characters could speak a bit slower, especially in the beginning of the show. It seemed some people around me were having a hard time understanding all that was being said. Which is a shame because the show does leave the audience with talking points.
Who do you trust and why? When do you stay back and when do you fight? When do you stand up and like Caroline proclaim “I’ve got hope!” before making a choice?
PUT YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER may not answer all of the questions it generates, but it is an interesting and genuinely tension filled foray into the horror genre that explores provocative topics with intellect and imagination.