Sometimes, trying to simplify your life can get complicated.
That's what happens in the world premiere of Chelsea Marcantel's "Tiny Houses" at Cleveland Play House, as Bohdi and Cath's idealistic plan to build a miniature home runs into some roadblocks.
In this quirky comedy helmed by CPH artistic director Laura Kepley, Cath (Kate Eastman) gives up her fast-paced finance job in New York when her boyfriend Bohdi (Peter Hargrave) convinces her to build a home of fewer than 200 square feet in northern Oregon.
These tiny homes, which most people have seen on HGTV, are all the rage. In this play, a co-production with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cath isn't so sure about having a composting toilet and no running water. But she knows she wants a change in her life and a place to call home.
One of the major stars is the tiny house itself, which is built onstage right before the audience's eyes. This ingenious design by Arnulfo Maldonado, like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle whose perfect pieces snap into place in ultra-smooth fashion, starts with a bare trailer and progresses to flooring, framing, siding, a roof, solar panels and windows.
Seeing it take shape in a forested backyard throughout the 100-minute, intermissionless show, we feel vested in the successful completion of this adorable yellow and orange abode.
At opening night Friday, Marcantel was in the audience. Her play about the attempt to simplify one's life was developed at CPH's New Ground Theatre Festival last year.
In the opening scene, Marcantel instantly juxtaposes the tiny home ideal with the virtual jobs of some of the play's unusual people. The lovers walk around their bare trailer while a tiny young woman with dark braids, atop the trailer, speaks strange and soothing words into a microphone.
These characters can't see each other. That's how we're introduced to the Pippi Longstocking-like Jevne, Bohdi's longtime friend who makes a living soothing people through her YouTube videos.
The tiny house is a symbol of the dreams, hopes and desires of different individuals. Cath sees it as a way to put down roots, while Bohdi sees it as a green way to stay on the go.
Bohdi spouts all the right words, including Thoreau's "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately." But Cath, who's reluctant about the tiny home concept at first, questions Thoreau's sanity.
Interestingly, the same project ends up revealing the lovers' divergent goals. To paraphrase what contractor Jeremiah (James Holloway) wisely says, folks build tiny homes as a way to either shut things out or let more of the world in. Motives are questioned and dynamics become complicated.
Eastman's characterization as Cath seems rather flat compared to the others, even given the fact that most of them are very quirky. Cath, who sarcastically notes that Oregon people have weird names and lack real jobs, doesn't truly connect with another character until well into the play.
The playwright creates some scenes amplifying a heightened sense of reality as additional characters speak into a mike for their virtual jobs, including Bohdi's life coaching and friend Ollie's (Michael Doherty) haunted doll sales. No joke.
As this story's planned three- or four-month project stretches past 30 weeks, some construction is fast-forwarded in fun scenes where the characters drink beer and build, with the help of four stagehands. Making this construction look so seamless requires extremely careful choreography and execution, aided by technical directors Devin Gall and Liam Roth and carpenters Cayla DeStefano, Andy Rowland and Kaleb Yandrick.
It's mind-boggling to think that for every show, this whole house is built and then taken apart. The four stagehands took a bow with the actors opening night for a well-deserved standing ovation.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.