Tiny House – Review by Nancy Sasso Janis

Tiny House,” a new comedy written by Michael Gotch, has been reconceived for the virtual world to launch the Westport Country Playhouse’s 90th anniversary season.

This is a play, which is making its regional premiere, about downsizing, going green, escaping urban life and fresh starts.

The production team, led by director Mark Lamos, decided that “Tiny House” was the perfect piece to be recreated for our virtual world.

While the setting is not specifically during a pandemic, the actors in this streaming production were clearly filmed separately.

The video experts involved with the production guided the actors through their performances that were captured in San Diego, Brooklyn, San Antonio, and Newark, Del., in front of green screens.

Their performances were then dropped into the sometimes stunning backgrounds based on Hugh Landwehr’s original set design.

The intent of the production is that pandemic-weary patrons may be able to relate to the characters whose lives have been reduced to smaller human circles.

In this comedy with a healthy dose of drama, all kinds of fireworks fly when family, friends and three neighbors convene for an Independence Day barbecue at the new off-the-grid mountain “tiny house” of a young, formerly urban couple.

“Tiny House” premiered in 2019 with Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players, a professional theater located at the University of Delaware, under the former title “Minor Fantastical Kingdoms.” It was workshopped at Westport Country Playhouse in 2018 as part of a New Works Initiative and is the playwright’s first full-length play.

Gotch is no stranger to Westport, having performed as Don Carlo de Histangua in the Westport Country Playhouse/REP’s co-production of “A Flea in Her Ear.”

Lamos had to work some magic via Zoom to direct the actors virtually and does his best to make the often quirky dialogue sound believable.

There are definitely some funny lines in the script and the family drama has its moments.

I found the editing of the video uneven, sometimes claustrophobic (even outside the “tiny” abode) and at other times slightly out of perspective. The sound of the stream was fine but there was a bit too much of characters speaking over each other, whether intentional or not.

The play was written as inherently physical in its comedy and relies heavily on a tight-knit ensemble presumably in the same location.

The cast and crew deal with these challenges, but I suspect it was exactly these elements that made the live performance more effective.

Kudos to Tricia Barsamian on her costume design and Christal Schanes on the impressive wig design.

The original cast of this production once again performs in the Playhouse production. Sara Bues as Sam and Denver Milord as Nick portray the newlyweds living in the titular home. Elizabeth Heflin (who performed in “Flea”) is Sam’s lovely mother Billie.

Lee E. Ernst is a riot as Larry, Sam’s uncle and a high school science teacher.

Hassan El-Amin portrays the couple’s quirky but scary neighbor Bernard, and Stephen Pelinski and Kathleen Pirkl-Tague charmingly portray a couple of aging hippies that are the elfin and, yes, more quirky neighbors.

The production of “Tiny House” will stream on demand through July 18. Running time is approximately 100 minutes, including a brief intermission between the two acts. The show is appropriate for ages 14 and up.

Virtual tickets, starting at $25, are available at westportplayhouse.org, at 203-227-4177, or by email: boxoffice@westportplayhouse.org.

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