A Great Puzzle

The constant switch between the aftermath of The Great Depression and the stock market crash in 2008 drove a perfectly formulated play into a great mess. Marianne Weems directed House/Divided, a play performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. By juxtaposing the two eras, she wanted to portray the similarities between the struggles of the time. Theoretically, the techniques she used to compare the two satisfied her purpose. However, the play was as confusing as simultaneously reading two different books. In the end, this was a puzzle rather than a play.

House/Divided was inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which is a story that focuses on the economic hardships people faced after the Great Depression in 1929. Weems wanted to incorporate scenes from this fictional story to parallel them with interviews of owners who lost their homes to banks. These two stories were projected onto a house on center stage and a white background. Throughout the play, actors shifted parts of the structure to serve other purposes. To me, it was a symbol of the fragile economy. If the shifting of pieces can transform a house and serve another purpose, then what is going to stop investment banks from manipulating stock prices to earn money?

The sound effects and lighting played a crucial role throughout the performance. Without them, I would not have understood when Weems was shifting from one scene to another. Each transition came as a surprise, which made it difficult to grasp when each vignette ended. The use of technology to transform the scene from one setting to another only served as a reminder of the stark differences between the two eras, rather than the similarities. Although the man reeling the projected tape gave off an antiquated vibe, the components of the house that made it so versatile also appeared as too advanced for its time.

Aside from the non-traditional way of telling these two stories, the puzzles were easier to put together when there was dialogue. The actors were full of realistic emotions; there were humorous jokes when stock prices were all increasing, and looked distressed when the market crashed. Simultaneously, the Joad family spoke with an Ohio accent, where the family is from. Understanding the parallelism between the interviews and Joads’ moving was the easiest part of this big puzzle because both stock market crashes had left similar impacts on many families. As the Joad family travelled across barren land, other families many years later are facing foreclosure issues.

The structure suddenly collapsed to serve as a table at the end of the play. An actor playing Alan Greenspan was being interviewed at this table/house. This was the final piece of this difficult puzzle. Greenspan was questioned about deregulation and his approaches at dealing with the current economy. The collapse of the house signifies how one man can lead to the destruction of families and homes. In the end, Weems was able to retell these two stories from different eras, but these vignettes were difficult to string together to form the final puzzle. This confusion portrays the inner emotions of people who struggled to survive after these two stock market crashes. From being confused to seemingly understanding the situation and back to confusion, these thoughts represent how people during these eras strived to survive the aftermath of the difficult conditions.


House/divided- credits to: cdn-media.backstage.com

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