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Signature Theatre Presents "The Open House" by Will Eno at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents "The Open House" by Will Eno at The Pershing Square Signature Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Shon 45 Wines & Spirits
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Mon - Thurs 10AM - 11PM
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Sun 12PM - 9PM

Signature Theatre Presents:
The Open House

By Will Eno
Directed by Oliver Butler

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Hannah Bos, Michael Countryman, Peter Friedman
Danny McCarthy, Carolyn McCormick

Set Design: Antje Ellerman
Costume Design: Bobby Frederick Tilley II
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: M.L. Dogg
Production Stage Manager: Donald Fried
Casting: Telsey + Company/William Cantler, CSA
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 25, 2014

Will Eno’s The Open House is one of the most thought-provoking new plays I’ve seen this season. A slightly shabby, static, stuffy “family” room in a town or suburb, somewhere, is inhabited by shabby, static, stuffy family members, a father, wife, daughter, son, and father’s brother. Peter Freedman is the wheelchair-bound father, wrapped in a gray blanket, as he reads the newspaper and waxes sadistic. Carolyn McCormack is the verbally abused wife, who’s ironically celebrating her wedding anniversary with her family, as she absorbs her husband’s relentless barbs. Hannah Bos is their daughter, who, along with brother, Danny McCarthy, are equally endowed with a target on their backs, a family in malaise. Michael Countryman is the uncle, who relies on the kindness of strangers, to quote from another play, as these relatives know less about one another than if they were strangers on a train. The shades are drawn, thanks to the father’s strict orders. He’s had a stroke, and he feels victimized. I kept waiting for the verbal spark, the catalyst for psychic, maybe physical explosions. But, it never arrived. In fact, talk of food or drink ensued, on occasion, but the coffee table was devoid of even a cup of coffee. Hunger or thirst were too earthy for this steely quintet. This family was dying from within, in need of external stimuli, support from the outside world. The language was bitter comedy, and the audience nervously laughed.

As I was contemplating the possibility that if the father were elsewhere the others could survive, or at least they’d be able to open a shade and a window, suddenly each character left the scene to shop, to attend to an emergency, to look for their missing dog, and so on. Dropped comments by the father had revealed he was selling the home, and his wife had not gathered the strength to appropriately react. When the daughter leaves to go to the market, Ms. Bos returns, with makeup, jewelry, and a confident demeanor. Lo and behold, she’s a real estate agent, pulls up the blinds, opens the window, and brings normalcy to the space. Each actor leaves and returns as a member of the real estate ensemble, and sun pierces the room where only shadows had existed. The sun was a metaphor for the outside world, and each character was a transformed being, eating on the coffee table, rubbing lotion onto cold hands, laughing, and speaking with bold honesty. The plot disasters that effectively rid the stage of original characters seem small, as nobody cares about their fate, now that we have this lively bunch to watch. One can imagine how any family could have grown into completely different people, with different dynamics, different rules, different chemistry. Each actor operated within the ensemble. There’s no star or lead or minor character. Each was intrinsic to the downbeat then upbeat gestalt.

Oliver Butler has directed for naturalness and contrast in this intermission-less play. Mr. Eno’s dialogue has irony, humor, pathos, and transparency. Each word, often overtly meaningless, is actually a kernel of the character’s soul and sense of self. Each character hurts so deeply, in the first dramatic ensemble, that you wish they had actually had the fortune to wake up as their character in the second dramatic ensemble. They lost years of aging and seemed lighter, lovelier, and so suddenly engaging. Antje Ellermann’s set design also seems brighter and more comfortable with light and laughter. Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s costumes said so much about the before and after characters, while David Lander’s lighting on an offstage tree expanded with luminosity in the opened shades. M. L. Dogg’s sound design worked well in this small theater. I look forward to Mr. Eno’s new Broadway play in the coming weeks.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at