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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One Response to Different Opinions Left this House Divided

  1. Professor Bernstein says:

    I like the way you included your review of the talkback in your piece on the show.

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