BAM production


This play truly surprised me, like the acronym of the place it was shown at. When I first entered the BAM Harvey Theater, I could see the disgusted looks on the people’s face as we climbed a steep sketchy staircase to our seats. I was thinking to myself, I hope no one trips and falls on these stairs, because if anyone does the slightest topple, we’d all fall down like dominoes – that would not be good. The walls were peeling; the pipes were rusted. As we arrived to our seats, we were able to see the seats were just as steep. Sitting there waiting for the play to start made me tense that I might fall over and land on the stage. It didn’t seem like the play would be good, I thought.
But then, BAM! The lights dimmed, and the production amazed me. Combining technology and ordinary theatrical props, it created an interesting appeal to the play. There were various projectors shining not just light but screens of the stock market running across the top of the stage. A house stands at the middle of the stage and light played a really nice role – it manipulated whether or not the audience could see the people clearly or just their silhouette. At the end of the play, the house surprisingly transforms into a table, with the character, Mr. Alan Greenspan. the chairman of the Federal Reserve at the time, sitting at one end answering to questions of an interview.

The context of the House/Divided was just as interesting. It combined the struggles of those in the times of the Dust Bowl, and the struggles of the mortgage crisis. Throughout the play, there were occasional clips explaining in layman’s terms what was going on. This production made the two economic crises more interesting to learn about and understand.

Many actors played multiple roles. They alternated between the scenes at the stock exchange and the house falling apart. Their enthusiasm was clearly shown on their faces as they ran back and forth onstage and backstage – which was a clear sight for those like us who were sitting up really high. Several screens zoomed into the actors face live. It made the audience really feel a part of the play.

What happened after the play ended at the ‘Talk backs” should not be left out. Surprisingly, someone had the wits to stand up and say “You blew it.” She continued to destroy the performance and create havoc and confusion. In response, the director angrily replied, “you go write your own play.” It concluded the play in a more interesting way, and I had thought I was the only one with the doubts on the play.


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BAM- House Divided

As a person who’s only been to Brooklyn about 10 times in his life, I was hesitant to go for a play I hadn’t ever heard of before hand. I was familiar with the BAM theatre and had heard about it, but still didn’t want to go. Thank god I did. This play did a great job of reviving my interest in theatre and in my opinion, spoke more to us as business students.

Marianne Weems’s House/Divided focuses on two of the most devastating financial times this country has ever faced. However, instead of merely telling a story of the two or using them as mere settings, Weems juxtaposes the two in a great play highlighting the emotional toll these economic meltdowns have had. The plot compared how essentially heartless corporate businessmen would make millions trading on mortgages until the entire system comes crashing. Instead of putting the light on how the companies were affected, Weems directed her attention to how the homeowners were hurt. She wanted the audience to catch light of how foreclosures force a sense of detachment from one’s roots. These homes were where families have prospered for generations and Weems appeals to her audiences pathos by pulling them away. She pushes the envelope even further by portraying life after foreclosure, where families are forced to beg for food.

The set was something I hadn’t seen before and was very innovative. Instead of distracting the audience by constantly changing the house set up, the production played with lighting and used versatile equipment to allow the show to run smoothly. The setting would go from the 1930’s to the 2000’s without catching the attention of the audience. Weems had an interesting technique of zooming up on a specific characters face during specific scenes. I found that it was a way to increase the impact of sorrow or anger towards the character in the spotlight.

In all honesty, I didn’t find anything special to focus on the costume design. I found that it served it’s purpose of portraying bankers as bankers, farmers as farmers, etc. However, the audio manipulation was very successful. In the depression-era scenes, the stringent archaic tone stressed the attitude in focus and brought to light the grim atmosphere. In the more modern, recession-era the sound helped characterize the bankers as individuals JUST looking to show a profit on their bottom line.

Credits to NYTimes

The play was a great experience that really spoke to us specifically, since a majority of us are business students. While we all hear of the banking crises, this play did a great job of comparing it to the Great Depression. It took corporate America out of the focus and really stressed the emotional toll on the homeowner.

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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:

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“Fear Turns to Wrath”

Walking into the theater, I didn’t know what the unfinished structure in the middle of the stage was. It looked a little like a house, but surely it wasn’t done yet. Were we too early? Was the stage crew still setting up? Show was starting in 10 minutes, so they better kick it into high gear. Seven minutes were left, still no stage crew. Two minutes, still nobody. Then there was no time left, time to see what was happening. The projectors turned on and the house was instantly complete.

What trickery was this? Well whatever it was, I was instantly interested. (Photos courtesy of BAM)

They say history repeats itself. And I’d say that the producers at BAM would agree. The appropriately named production of House/Divided fused together the past and the present. Taking parts of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to illustrate their point. What does Steinbeck’s classic and the current financial state have in common? More that you’d think. Let’s take Rosasharn’s baby for example. A stillbirth. Why though? Is it a symbol that new life cannot be supported in these desperate times? If it is then why did House/Divided put it in their play? Are they trying to tell us something?

Back to the set. A symbol in itself. Throughout the play, pieces of the house are broken off and tossed away. Is the house itself a symbol? It must have been important enough to be put in the title. A House/Divided, yes there is a house on set. And it is being divided, but what other house do we know of? Is it in our government, or perhaps the economy itself? The symbolism is everywhere. If the production gets you to think (which it did for me) then it did its job. If the house is the economy itself, then then the play is illustrating its eventual demise. The Grapes of Wrath was a perfect juxtaposition with today. However it was not a juxtaposition of current events, but time itself. Time is one of the only factors that was different. Shown with the folk music, different music and lighting. The struggle, sadness, and sorrow is apparent in both eras.

But who is to blame? At the end of the play, the house topples to a elongated table. At the end of it sits Alan Greenspan (well, an actor playing him.) Mr. Greenspan was the head of the Fed when the current recession began. According to the play, he was a force in the current economic situation. As well as the banking system in general. Have we, as a nation, become too dependent on banks and the government? Is there a need for reform? Do we need to regulate or deregulate? Many questions are raised after viewing the play. And only the individual can answer them because this society will never agree.

History repeats itself unless we learn from it. Will we—as a nation—ever learn?

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House (And Opinions)/ Divided

The stage was set. The economy was booming, propelled by the housing market. Juxtaposed throughout the performance was the famous Steinbeck work Grapes of Wrath. Home owners and stock traders shared good fortune. But as the music portrayed, there was something churning and developing under the surface of this commentary on the economic decline, House/ Divided.

The theater piece starts off with the hustle and bustle of an average day of the New York Stock Exchange. As traders inquire to the profitability of purchasing new stocks, and others try to convince them that they are “as safe as houses”, the ironic turn of events begins to take place.

This performance takes place on one stage, with a house as the centerpiece. This house revolved, rotated, broke apart, and did much else to supplement a wonderful performance by the actors.  On the wall behind the house, stock prices could be seen moving from right to left, showing a lot of green to indicate beneficial stock markets.  Throughout the performance, music depicted the mood of the characters. In the beginning, the fast paced music almost made it seem as if the audience was in a jungle (and why not? The stock market is one of the darkest, densest jungles there are).  The music (mostly automated but some live) changed as the scene transitioned from that of a busy trading floor to that of the prairie, where Steinbeck’s characters are accompanied by much older, non- machine made music. However, director Marianne Weems and writer Moe Angelos did a great job in preserving the theme of displaced people.

This performance also mixes in many interviews of actual home owners in Columbus, Ohio (chosen because Ohio is a swing state and was effected deeply by the housing crisis) who had lost their homes due to the economic meltdown. This was a great addition and gave a deep insight into the magnitude and reality of the situation. Another aspect of the performance that conveyed reality was the crude language used by the two stockbrokers. Their words were filled with sarcasm, disdain, and a lack of emotion or empathy. This is the image that stockbrokers of today that is widely accepted by both the media and the public.

As soon as the economic downturn hit, the music changed to the type one would see in a movie when someone is breaking out of jail. The house, an image of the American Dream, begins to be disassembled, as chaos ensues in the finance offices. The president of Bear Sterns comes on to the main screen, reassuring investors that everything will be fine, and the recovery will occur promptly. To an audience in 2012, this is almost comical, as it is clear that what was predicted did not happen and these business leaders took completely wrong steps in trying to turn the direction of their companies. This performance was a commentary not only on the tragedy for homeowners, but also the ineptness of loan officers, giving loans to people that clearly could not afford to pay any of them back. As the stock market plummeted, the setting changed to the farms of Oklahoma, in which the families have been kicked off their farms, having to move to California in order to pick fruit. The juxtaposition of these two problems is also quite interesting because in the old days, people would simply move to places where there were better opportunities, but now there is such a high demand for jobs that at some points, there are just not enough jobs to sustain economic growth. Another interesting comparison between the two time periods is that in Steinbeck’s time, there was no such thing as a big bank who’s failure could set off a chain reaction to effect the national economy. However, economies today have become so complex and inter- connected that one fallout can cause a much greater reaction.

The play’s strongest message was sent in the end, as an actor portraying Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve accused of over deregulating the market to the point where it was taken advantage of and the decline began. With Greenspan’s refusal to admit his mistakes and eventual acceptance, the stock strip in the back of the stage began to flicker green, signaling recovery. Once again, Steinbeck’s characters were brought back to signal a similar emotion of hope and resilience. Both stories will hopefully have a positive end.


“You Blew It”

Lucky enough to stay after for the question and answer session, something I heard blew my mind. “You blew it.” An elderly woman got up to ask a question, but instead went on to destroy the performance. She said that “the music was abominable” and she was not “emotionally stirred”. Everyone was shocked by this sudden rudeness, and the director was no exception. “You go write your own play,” said Marianne Weems angrily. This woman, though entitled to her opinions, needed to do a better job of conveying her criticism, and this part of the night was the only subpar one for me.


Credit: Jay LaPrete

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BAM: House Divided, Experimental Hi-Tech Design Puts Form Before Function.

Inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, House/Divided is an experimental, multi-media theater piece that features video projections, documentary clips, live acting and a moving set. When a play defies the conventional by diving into the digital realm, it is easy to get lost in the limitless opportunities for innovation. House/Divided attempts to multitask with the chaos of technology. It puts form before function, a sacrifice that is somewhat foolish, especially since the subject matter, foreclosures and repossessions in Ohio, is already complicated in nature.

Rather than a narrative play that has a linear storyline with the rising action, climax, and falling action, House/Divided is more of a collage. The scene transitions, although not fluidly, between the present and the past, between metropolis and farmland. The starkness of the transitions gives off the notion that the playwright intended for the audience to observe different facets of the issue without following a focused, solid storyline. Although the breadth of technology used is quite remarkable, each feature seems to compete for the viewers’ attention as the Times Square advertisements do. The ‘live’ tickers, the webcam projections, the banker (Jess Barbagallo) on the side making phone calls, and the repeating background music adds to the high-tech experience, but it is rather overwhelming.  At one point, a projection of Alan Greenspan appeared, while an overlapping projection of a ticker quickly infiltrated the set with a rising sea of negative, red numbers signifying the major decreases in the stock market. It was a clever representation, but the underlying messages are politically charged, almost resembling propaganda. The problem with using technology is that glitches are more likely to happen. About halfway into the play, a part of a documentary clip was repeated. The superfluous use of technology in the banking scenes really only served the singular purpose of communicating that the debt crisis is, in itself, confusing, forceful and ubiquitous.

Amidst the serious subject matter, the script does include some humor through caricatures of bankers that make myriads of mortgage-related phone calls in a short amount of time and mockeries of automated recordings. The script incorporates some scenes of comedic relief that bring up economic annoyances that most people in the audience can relate to.

The “high-tech” quality of the play is much more emotionally powerful during the rural Ohio scenes than in the bank setting. While the acting and the set of the bank scenes appear fast-paced, machine-like, cold and opportunistic, we see the humanistic presence of rural Ohio. An image of a home with white shingles and many windows is projected onto the main, boxy structure of the set, giving the illusion that it is three-dimensional. Here, the use of technology seems more effective because the panels of the structure are translucent, allowing the viewer to see a cutaway with actors inside.  The first rural scenes look tranquil and beautiful, as nostalgic images of tall grass sweeping before the sunset are projected onto the panels—effective images that conjures the pathos. Further into the play, the tone becomes desolate and hopeless when the house is foreclosed. The panels are moved around by the repossession men, making the empty structure seem more like a house than a home, at this point.

Although we get a cutaway view into the house, it is almost futile since the panels are not transparent enough to see the facial expressions of the actors. Furthermore, the character voices telling their anecdotes is just as unsuccessful; the highly artificial Midwestern accents were more of a distraction than a set of believable monologues. Despite the unrehearsed accents, the narrator’s grave, whispery voice was at least an appropriate fit for the poetic narrations that supplemented the scene of the house on the verge of foreclosure. One chilling banjo (or ovation guitar) cover of Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend” arose from the shadows, and marked the beginning of the foreclosure. The deep, resonating strumming of the ballad created a poignant moment that is difficult to forget.

The play’s message would have been more successful if it did not go to the extremes to illustrate the debt crisis, but instead exhibited arguments from both sides. A clear focus and a simple design are the two things that a theater company must consider, especially when taking on the challenge of an experimental-digital medium.

House Divided played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from October 24, 2012 through October 27, 2012. For current and future productions at BAM, please visit

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A Story Divided

Paying tribute to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is a noble task to take on. Marianne Weems had a vision of using modern day theater to bring Steinbeck’s story back to life by drawing a parallel between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the more recent recession of 2008. The director filled her production with several memorable moments, but unfortunately, the summation of the play did not meet any expectations. Even with the latest technology, talented actors, and a meaningful theme, House Divided was an awkward theater production to witness.

House Divided opened with a scene that was both unusual and immediately glum. As the sound of a ferocious wind filled the auditorium, a woman appeared on the left. Sitting on the dark stage, she slowly rotated the handle of an old projector. The machine shone the images of dark skies and wheat fields onto the surface of a house that stood center stage. A few solemn words of a narrator could be heard behind the wind, but before any sense of the scene could be made, the sounds were muted and the house’s canvas grew dark. Momentary darkness ensued, but bright lights and the bustle of a trading floor soon replaced it. Standing below a NYSE newsfeed ribbon, two workers burst into a talk, crudely greeting each other and typing away on their computers. Behind them, the Bear Sterns CEO walked into view and started a conference.

After a few short minutes, the format of the play had been established. Focus shifting from the hardships of the Great Depression to the financial chaos of the modern era, the production concluded without a clear and witty connection between the two. Sure, both times witnessed horrid economic conditions. People lost their homes and livelihoods. But what was the greater reason for joining these two events in one play?

That isn’t to say, however, that the individual stories were without a clear message or that the tech team did a poor job. If you drew your attention to the right side of the stage, you would witness one family’s gruesome journey during the Depression Era. Forced out of their farmland in Ohio, the family set out on a westward expedition to find wok. To show progress along the journey, the production crew would alter the house at the center of the stage. It would be repositioned, changed in shape, or selectively illuminated in one place to seem less like a house and more like destroyed property. The characters’ stories, consistent with the theme, would seem as tormented as the house that stood at the center of it all. As the family was nearing California, they met a man filled with lost hope. He too went to the golden state to find work, but his long and futile attempt saw nothing more than the death of his starved wife and children.

On the left, the story of a recent recession simultaneously unfolded. This time, the house at the center of the stage would look different, but tell a similar story. With white vinyl siding and large glass windows (again projected onto it), the house was symbolic of the optimistic era that expanded the housing bubble beyond all expectation. As the elegant bank worker in a beige pencil skirt and high heals calmly spoke to a frustrated homeowner, the contents of the house were taken apart and the man’s belongings were thrown out. Bear Sterns was doing great, but the average person was losing his home and livelihood.

There was an instance in which the stories began to develop a tie. The narrator spoke of the changes that the old Ohio home began to undergo once its owners left. The surrounding land became infested with weeds, the harsh winds blew open the door, and wild cats were free to roam inside the house. The eerie tone of the old narrative transforms into a comedic act as the audience is taken to 2008. A lady, whose house neighbors an abandoned property, sees wild cats walk inside the house and calls animal control. While talking on the phone, she wanders into the foreclosed home and begins to say how cute the mother cat looks beside her cubs. In a fit of laughter, the audience anticipates the tragic, yet undeniably funny, outturn of events.

Both stories were compelling and worthy of praise, with one brilliant parallel between them. To say that they are two pieces within one puzzle, however, is an overstatement.

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House (and Opinions) / Divided

I do believe that history repeats itself. If we don’t learn and apply the new knowledge we acquire from historical events, then we will keep making the same mistakes. Marianne Weems’s “House / Divided”, a play inspired by Grapes of Wrath, focuses in on this idea.


The play is divided into two sections and is constantly shifts between the two. The first section deals with a family during the Great Depression. They can’t afford their home due to the Dust Bowl and as a result, they move to California. The second section deals with Wall Street and the banks before and after the 2008 recession.


Interestingly enough, the set was very resourceful. The same house was used in both eras of time. When the play shifted to the Depression, one can really understand the problems that family was facing. But as we shifted to Wall St, one sees almost no focus on the individual. It was only focused on the corporate and banking side of homes. By juxtaposing the two, the audience can clearly see the differences.


The acting and costumes were superb. The stockbrokers from the present day era showed a certain corporate culture through the use of multiple computer screens, fast-talking, and profanity. The performers, through the use of accents, the clothing, and the banjo playing, brought the poor Midwestern family to life.

Credit goes to

Moreover, the recent era focused more on the pre-recession. Everyone in the audience knew that eventually, the fall would come. It was very self-reflexive. It always is. We as humans look at all of our mistakes from a retrospective point of view. The Depression era focused more on the aftermath. Unlike the recent era, there was a certain mystery. Where does the family go after this? You just had to stay and watch to see what was going to happen next.


In all, the play was good and relevant to many of us since we all lived through the 2007 financial crisis.


Lucky for us, this play had a talkback. The producers and the director set on the stage and explained their work. It was very helpful. As they were speaking, I better understood many of the play’s themes and sub-themes. Then came the part where the audience can ask any question they want to the people on stage. Many of the questions that were asked were that of praise of the play. But then the famous old lady came on stage. She stated to people on the stage that, “YOU BLEW IT”. The entire audience—including me—experienced a moment of aporia. No one expected it. At first, I thought the lady had no decorum, but on the train ride back home I thought of something else. The lady seemed to be in her late seventies to early eighties. If you were to do the math, you can say that she was born around the 1930s. That decade was what I would like to call the time of harsh truth and when children became adults. There was no sugar coating of issues. They were presented as is. So, I don’t blame the old lady for making the comment. I do blame the era in which she was born for influencing her.

Credit goes to

Still, Marianna Weems could have handled the situation better. Instead of ignoring the lady down, she could have gave her a rebuttal on why she chose to do this and say that she values her opinion. Instead, she sounded a bit like a child by saying “Well, you go make a play and I will come review it.” She should have acted more professionally. Luckily, that episode didn’t diminish my view on the entire play.

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Confusing? — Well, it’s worthy.

For someone like myself, who is not familiar with American history at all, the show House Divided at BAM was merely too confusing. It required too much background information. Even with a little research beforehand, I could not keep on track until a friend of mine kindly whispered reasons into my ears—then I only figured out the most basic part—it was a story showing two time periods, the Great Depression and the Housing Market Crash.

For some reason, before I went to the show, my mind was set on this lie that the whole story took place during the Housing Market Crash only. Thus, during the whole show, I was wondering why people were dressed up as if they were in the Great Depression, so take my advice for this: either do as much research as one can, or don’t do it at all; half way in between can only cause one pain.

Even without my mistake on my own account, however, the House Divided was complicated. Switching between two time periods was a risk that could either ruin the performance or shine a spotlight on it—for me, the experience was somewhat negative. The attempt was understandable. The stage was literarily divided into two in the beginning, one presenting the Stock Exchange and the other setting in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath. Nevertheless, as the story went on, the division became obscure. Sometimes the whole stage was entirely one scene, but within a blink of an eye, it changed to another with the previous scene unfinished. Although the overall storyline was clear, if the audience hadn’t read the novel, it would be hard for them to track the details in both stories—which could only result in confusion in the end.

It was still worthy. Even with the complication of merging stories, the production itself deserved a pet on the shoulder. The performance still had some highlights to it, and this is from someone who struggled through the entire play. Although puzzling, the visual contrast between the two brought a completely new experience to the audience. The busy transitions, including the lighting, projection and music, allowed people to dissolve into either mood quickly to my surprise (maybe that was the weird part for me, since my mood was transferred but my brain was still processing the previous information). Moreover, the idea of adding projection was fascinating. Within such a tiny stage, the projection enabled a faster and more effective transition of setting, at the same time added a modern taste to the whole production. Only if they could think about the angle of the projection, bacause from where I was sitting, the stage looked broken from the middle sometimes.

Speaking of modern taste, the addition of angled cameras was innovative. House Divided was the first theater play ever I saw that used cameras on stage, and I can be certain that it is not the last time. Since the stage was so tight, it was almost impossible for the actors to face the crowd all at once, but the camera helped them to do so. Also, since there were several scenes involved telephoning, without the cameras, it would have been two people talking to each other across the stage. However, with this technology installed, a much more realistic act became available.

I have to say, House Divided was a difficult play. Although the necessary details were basic for most people, without which the play could be somehow troubling to understand. However, even solely for the digital effects, the play is worthy to see, not to say the educational value of the production surpassed its challenging plots. By the end of the show, even if one were struggling like me, it won’t be hard for one to realize the impact of this performance within—just like what it felt like for people during the Great Depression and the Housing Market Crash—a feeling of concern, uncertainty and anger.

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The Remaking of Our House

The Builders Association outdid themselves at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, with their new theatrical play using multimedia. Recounting the history of the financial crisis of the housing bubble, “House/Divided,” directed by Marianne Weems, magnificently weaved together the past and present through intricate technology and a creative set. The play was inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and motivated by discussion of Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder. The story was told through two intertwining perspectives: first, from families suffering environmental or financial difficulties that forced them to leave their homes, and two, from brokers and banks that were the forces that made the families leave.

Brooklyn Academy of Music – Harvey Theater. Photo credits to BAM.

Integrating technology and lighting masterfully, the play switched between the Dust Bowl (past) and the housing stock brokers (present). Although consecutively alternating the time frame did initially create confusion, it was not difficult to understand the effect of the technique. The scene of the Dust Bowl was projected onto a house-like platform in the center of stage while the stock brokers were on left stage. Using lights, our attention was focused onto the screening in which we learned how a man-made ecological disaster drove a family out of their homes. Such was juxtaposed with the banks and stock brokers who, in the same way as the Dust Bowl, forced a man to be evicted from his house. The bank was said to be “the monster[; it] has to have profits all the time. It can’t wait. It’ll die.”

A scene in House/Divided where effective image projection and acting on the left side combined to create this new form of multimedia theater. Photo credits to Jay LaPrete.

The most provoking aspect of this would be that Builders Association really emphasized the emotional pain the evicted tenants were when they were forced out of their homes–a place filled with history and memories–rather than provide extraordinary numbers to illustrate a point. The music contributed heavily to such effect, creating high tension with fast techno beats and sorrow with slow paced sounds. We could only watch as workers “trash out” the man’s belongings in his former house. The old saw no future and could only hope that their children could create one.

The actors effectively brought out the complexity of the financial crisis and what led to the great economic downfall. In many parts of the play, there would be non-linear conversations. Multiple people would concurrently speak, making it very difficult to concentrate on their conversations. However, the audience could make out that the workers paid no attention to their superiors, like the stock brokers from Bear Stern ignoring their boss’s executive speech. The actors all spoke clearly and quickly, as if they were in sync with their role as businessmen. The use of overlapping conversations did not create incredible confusion; rather it was used to illustrate the chaos and ignorance that ultimately led to the stock market crash in 2008.

The set was especially impressive and efficient when combined with projection technology. With the help of projection technology, the sides and back stage was able to alternate through the different time periods with ease. At the heart of the stage and play sat a house-like structure. When appropriate images were projected onto it, it was initially used as a screen. Then when the families living in homes were introduced, it became a house. What was even more amazing was that inside the house were the musicians playing instruments. It was difficult to see through the screens that acted as the outer layer of the house but they were there, along with the casts outside, performing on stage. Toward the end, the crew took apart the house, which took very little time, brought out a podium and shown bright lights on its center. And so, the house transformed into an auction center. Once the auction platform had performed its role, it was quickly taken apart and removed from stage to make room for a table in which Alan Greenspan was questioned.

The main set seen in House/Divided. As shown, the house appearance is created by projecting an image onto the movable structure. Also, musicians are inside the home playing instruments for this theatrical piece. Photo credits to BAM.

Simplifying the complexity of the housing bubble was no easy task but Builders Association pulled it off marvelously. It was stunning that the first comment during the Talk Back session by an elderly woman was, “YOU BLEW IT!” She criticized the play had failed its purpose to engage the audience and leave them with feelings of anger or emotion. It was not wise for director Weems to shut her down and ignored her criticism. She could have responded in a friendly manner, even if it was to move on to the next questioner. That said, what the elderly woman said was not accurate. The play was provoking, but in a subtle manner. It left the audiences with a good grasp of our financial crisis and exhibited the emotional pain and sufferings the evicted tenants had to face. We might not leave wanting to eradicate banks all over the nation, but we should leave thinking how we would “[remake] a house that is undone physically and economically.”

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Great Show, Disappointing Q&A

I very much liked “House Divided” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I think the show was very successful in portraying the crisis through a particular lens. As evidenced by the Q&A session, there was much frustration and almost disdain for the producers and directors of the program. I think the program depicted Wall Street’s role in the crisis very vividly, especially when the mortgage processor was told it wasn’t her place to question the firm’s decisions. The moving stock tickers above the stage were an excellent touch. The young man who played one of the stock traders was excellent. He showed his role versatility and far outshined all the other actors/actresses in the show.


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From Google Images


The audio was very clear; especially considering how high and far back we were sitting. I believe the use of props and scenery was very well done. The house that was able to allow the audience to see inside was magnificent, nothing I’ve ever seen before. The juxtaposition of the Dust Bowl and the displacement of a family with the foreclosure of a home were very vivid.

During the Q&A session, one member of the audience voices her very negative opinion of the program very clearly. She almost needed to be pushed away from the mic, and the Q&A couldn’t shake the negative tone brought on by the first question/statement. It was truly a disappointment.

While the play was very good, I was very disappointed that the Q&A was not more of a view into the minds of the actors, producers, and directors.

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Different Opinions Left this House Divided

For four consecutive evenings, the Brooklyn Academy of Music put on House/Divided, an original production inspired by John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  The show itself smoothly transitioned back and forth between two distinct settings.  The first is inside a brokerage firm, which allows the audience to see the large scale, economic effects of the Great Depression.  The other half of the performance follows the Joad family, the main characters of Steinbeck’s novel.  This setting follows them on their difficult journey westward and highlights the individual struggle for families during the 1930’s.

The set of this production is very confusing at first, but it allows the audience to see the opposing sides of people during the Depression quite effectively.  Stationed on the left are two brokers, who seem to be exchanging stocks within their firm.  In the middle, there is a run down home that emphasizes the hardships of the Joads.  All the way to the right, there is a single man constantly playing music that adds to the emotions already being portrayed.  Lastly, there is a projector in the background, along with a stock market ticker.  At first, I thought the transiting was going to be awkward, considering everything was crammed on stage.  However, Jennifer Tipton and her crew did a superb job with the lighting, allowing the audience to focus their attention on certain cast members.

Photo Credit: James Gibbs

If someone wanted to attend a show for quality acting, this was the production to choose.  Throughout the evening, the audience has a sense of all the emotions that many families dealt with during the Depression.  The Joad family experiences many hardships in such a brief period of time.  Within a few months, they are evicted from their home, they are out of work, their grandfather dies, and Rose of Sharon delivers a stillborn baby.  But the actors who play the Joads magnificently provide the viewers with the necessary sense of fear and distress.  In a similar way, the music only adds to the theatrics of the night.  When the stock market crashes, the music goes from serine to hectic.  It progressively gets louder during the evening, and the crowd becomes one with the Joads.

Overall, the BAM Harvey Theater displayed an excellent rendition of the Great Depression. However, some people begged to differ.  A seemingly harmless, elderly woman took to the microphone during the post-show talkback.  As soon as she got to where the microphone was, she exclaimed, “YA BLEW IT!”  Silence fell in the room, as this out of whack viewer rambled on about the poor quality of the production.  Rather than calmly responding to the lady, one of the female producers immediately jumped on her case to shut her down.  To me, both of the women did not handle this situation properly; luckily it did not take away from the actual main event.

After that whole instance, the producers went on to discuss their reason for making this show.  “It’s about making the invisible, visible,” said one of the producers.  I found this statement to hold some immense value because often times, people do not notice the inevitable forces of nature that are affecting their lives.   For those who stayed for the talkback, they gained insight about making a theater production in addition to the stellar production that preceded it.

Photo Credit: Richard Termine, NY Times

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When Divided Parts Come Together

Taking two different time periods and weaving them together masterfully, “House/Divided” was a very inventive production. The first component of the play was inspired by John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and told a narrative about a family struggling through the dust bowl and having to move out west. The other component was a more recent one, bringing up the worries and the fear of the current mortgage crisis. Bringing these two periods together with videos and technology, the play was creative in idea and even better in production.

The Dust Bowl component featured American history about a family struggling to pay for their land. The Dust Bowl ruined their crops and they are forced to move out west. The video screen in the back plays the haunting images of despair and dry land, leaving a hopeless mood for the family. It also zooms in on the actors sometimes, mirroring their well-done actions and allowing the viewer to see close-up that the family can do nothing to fix their problems. Except for their song that was hard to understand, the actors all display the feeling of hopelessness and deliver clear, powerfully written lines. The dark narration voice tone deepens the sadness and offers eerie details of overgrown grass, and how the abandon houses have become hunting grounds for wild cats chasing mice. We follow the family as they move to California looking for work and hope. But despair follows them as they cannot afford a funeral for the grandfather, and are cursed with a stillborn child.

Credits to James Gibbs

The current component of the production focuses on Wall Street and the crisis. The bankers curse like Wall Street bankers do, making the acting realistic in subtle ways. They are rude on the phones, but suck up to the bosses, everything that a banker has to do to get the job done. Featuring real videos of people speaking, this part of the production showed the fear and worry that many people had about foreclosure. This play also revealed the shocking truth that the ones who spoke out and questioned the securitization system were reprimanded and ignored. Speeches by the CEO of Lehman brothers and the questioning of Alan Greenspan also showed how confident people were in the system, but how it ultimately failed and bankrupted many.

Credits to Richard Termine

The set consisted of a medium sized, two-story house in the middle of the stage that played a role in the Dust Bowl family’s life and roles in the current crisis. What was fantastic about this was that it looked so simple, yet it was very complex. As the play progressed, parts of the house would turn and come off, and the house would give a different look to the scene as it was used for a different purpose. It started off as a home, then transformed to look like a garage, then it was eventually taken down to just a table, where Alan Greenspan was questioned.

Technology played a big role in the play. In the very beginning, a projector shined on the set, and displayed boards being placed on top of each other, like the building of a house. It created a hologram effect that captured attention from the start. The projector would continue to display different images to emphasize points as the play progressed. The house itself would allow viewers to see the inside at some points, and then cut them off from view at others, making the house very versatile and effective in intriguing the audience. Using the video screen to create emotion and a setting was very creative. Despite the video screen messing up and showing part of a clip twice, the use of technology and interviews with real people added to the power and believability of the play. Even subtle changes like the ticker in the background changing from green to red helped create emotion and carry on the message.

Credits to James Gibbs

The playwrights wanted the audience to walk away with the complexity of the problem and reflect on it. While one woman felt that the there was no plot, feeling, wrath, and bad music and overall the play just blew it, she is wrong. The play brought the audience into a familiar story, made us feel and reflect, and put on a creative and innovative work.

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House/Divided (BAM)

Just added House/Divided (BAM) under Critics’ Corner.

Prof. B.

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