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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