The inaugural production from the “new” City Lights Theatre walks a razor’s edge between over–the–top comedy, romantic drama and social commentary. It’s a frustrating experience — sometimes uproariously funny and sometimes perilously close to sinking under the weight of its pretentions.
Writer/director Jim Holt’s Open House wants to be all things to all people, and in doing so it presents a myriad cast of characters, each with an agenda, and the end result doesn’t quite equal the sum of the parts.
Open House succeeds best when it’s playing like a farce, when the goings–on and the dialogue are so fast–paced and bizarre the audience has no time to catch its collective breath.
That’s only about half the play’s 90 minute running time.
It is, of course, refreshing to see original theater being produced in Savannah — Holt is a fixture on the stage scene here — so any criticism of Open House must be tempered with the fact that it’s new, and untried (although it has been previously produced, a few years ago), and something of a gamble on the part of the City of Savannah and its S.P.A.C.E. black box.
Open House concerns novice realtor Mark Spears, who’s trying to sell an upscale dwelling in a posh neighborhood. Mark, ably played by Bailey Davidson, becomes the eye of a mad hurricane, as a parade of loonies blow through his open house, some hoping to tour the dwelling, some there merely to try his patience.
Holt gives us a handful of stereotypes, including a flamboyantly cartoonish gay couple, an egomaniacal rap star and his reverse–racist brother, and a barefoot bohemian spouting inanities about the power of pyramids.
There are, to be direct about it, too many characters in the show. Some of them come and go and don’t seem to serve any real purpose. As in any community theater production, several of the performances are terrific while others are ... well, without naming names, embarrassingly bad.
Mark’s nemesis in all of this is Karen Miles, the stiff, no–nonsense veteran realtor. She’s played by Grace Diaz Tootle, who gives the most consistent performance in Open House — even when her scripted dialogue fails her.
Tootle’s Karen is arch, bitchy and rude — it’s like watching Nurse Ratched storm–troop and bluster her way through Glengarry Glen Ross.
There’s a love story, and a sub–plot about a greedy developer who wants to raze the neighborhood, and an entire scenario that seems to have been lifted straight out of House of Sand and Fog.
There’s also a scene built around dog excrement.
Along the way, Holt’s script delivers quite a few priceless lines. Mark, for example, had been fired from an earlier job teaching in a university English department.
“A lot of lit majors expect to sleep with their professors,” he sheepishly explains, “especially when Shakespeare is involved.”
The dark David Mamet influence in Open House is apparent — some of the dialogue is as salty as Utah — but it’s not the chest–pounding production it wants to be. There’s a great play in there somewhere, buried under too much other stuff.
Open House continues Sept. 17 and 18 at S.P.A.C.E, 9 W. Henry St.