As their penultimate production prior to closing up shop, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, in partnership with the Alliance Theatre and Baltimore Stage, is currently presenting the world premiere of “Dream Hou$e” by Eliana Pipes. The dollar sign in the title is not a typo.
In “Dream Hou$e” we are introduced to two Latinx sisters, the very pregnant Julia (Darilyn Castillo) and her high-strung older sister, Patricia (Renata Eastlick), who reunite after the death of their mother. They meet with the intention of selling their family home on a reality home improvement show hosted by Tessa (Marianna McClellan). There is baggage between the two sisters. Patricia was left as caregiver to her dying mother while Julia continued her teaching career as an unwed mom. There is friction about the home sale as Julia has a sense of its history (or so she thinks) while Patricia is anxious to get out and reap the rewards of a big payday.
The timely themes of identity and what price can be put on heritage resonate in the first third or so of the play. “Dream Hou$e” starts strong when the sisters reunite in a friendly/awkward manner and both actors are good enough to show us the layers of tension between them and all the history that remains unsaid. Their different approaches to a shared family history is an interesting conflict especially, later in the play, when they appear to switch viewpoints. This core story should have been enough given that the women are likable and flawed and very worth following as characters. But Pipes switches gears after a bit and adds a surreal bent to the story once the HGTV show elements kick in. Some of this is funny, some is like shooting fish in a barrel (parodying reality TV is a futile process). But late in the play, when Tessa starts asking Patricia to literally sell the clothes off her back (and more), the play turns obvious, grim and somewhat sordid. You could feel the audience resist. It all suddenly becomes very literal and heavy-handed which undermines the sister’s crucial relationship.
All three actors are well suited for their roles and do what they can with the muddled script under Laurie Woolery’s lively direction. Kudos also to Woolery’s handling of her resilient stage crew who are enlisted here to not only act as the home improvement show crew but take charge of countless scene changes and a mountain of props. I can only imagine what the backstage area of the theatre looks like! I loved Stephanie Osin Cohen’s beautiful adobe home setting with its swirling shades of brown and burgundy. It’s a shame that the set is soon dismantled throughout the evening adding a suggestion of mold that resembled thick blood red spaghetti. Mark Holthusen’s excellent projection designs and Jason Lynch’s lighting also deserve mention. The play has many worthy elements and is strongly acted, but the surreal aspects and confused plotting should be addressed for future productions.
“Dream Hou$e” continues at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive in New Haven through April 3. For tickets or further information visit: https://longwharf.org/shows-events/dream-house Patrons are required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination at the door.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.