Family history is integral to the formation of a person's identity, whether it's embraced or not. Where a person's roots are; where their family originated; the kinds of foods they grew up eating, and the language they grew up speaking -- all of these factor into our earthly existence. Catherine Trieschmann's new play, "One House Over," which has its world premiere at Geva through April 29, explores themes of family, culture, and roots.
"One House Over" is a co-production with Milwaukee Repertory Theater (it was performed there February 27 through March 25 and is directed by MRT's artistic director Mark Clements). While not a lot has been written about the world premiere (yet), and it doesn't have any Pulitzers or Drama Desk Awards (yet), Trieschmann has said in interviews that she based part of the script on her own experiences as both an immigrant descendant and a live-in nanny.
The show is set circa the summer of 2010 in a middle class Chicago suburb, and begins with 50-ish Joanne (Elaine Rivkin) hiring 30-ish, undocumented Camila (Zoë Sophia Garcia) to work as an in-home health aide to Joanne's aging father Milos (Mark Jacoby). Camila's equally undocumented husband, Rafael (Justin Huen) also moves into the basement apartment, and the four begin their shaky advent into cohabitation, all observed by the nosey next door neighbor, Patty (Jeanne Paulsen). What follows is a sweet, hilarious story about immigration (Milos came from Eastern Europe during World War II), love, and trusting strangers.
It's notable -- and refreshing -- that the entire cast as well as Clements make their Geva Theatre debuts with "One House Over." While Geva returning favorites are always nice to see on stage, there's something to be said for a new director's or actor's interpretation of the space, the roles, the script, and the design.
Adding to the story is a massive set (the side of a Craftsman-style brick home) and a quaint backyard complete with a wooden fence, a patch of grass, and a flower garden. The scenes largely take place in the backyard, though scenic designer Kevin Depinet has also (brilliantly) made a small part of the house's interior functional.
The cast of five is impressively focused and strong throughout the nearly two-and-a-half hour performance (including an intermission). The script is filled with dialogue, and never once do they falter or lose the energy between characters. There's a lot of good chemistry onstage, particularly between Huen and Rivkin, and Jacoby and Garcia. As the show progresses -- without providing spoilers -- the need for chemistry becomes increasingly important. These are complete, three-dimensional characters played out, though they could have so easily been two-dimensional (Paulsen, who has the least stage time, is incredibly nuanced and makes every second count in her character's journey).
At a time when the country is so divided over immigration, especially, Geva's newest production feels particularly relevant, and not at all preachy. The heaviest themes are worked out with humor and wit, causing the audience to pause, perhaps, in their laughter to consider what's happening -- and hopefully keep the dialogue going long after the show has ended.