Reviews Off-Broadway Published 27 October 2015

Houseworld

San Damiano Mission

Room to room.

Loren Noveck
Credit: EmilyKendall

Credit: EmilyKendall

Some things will happen at the beginning of Houseworld that may help you to determine whether you are the sort of person who will have the kind of emotional and ultimately spiritual experience that Houseworld’s creators seem to be envisioning, or whether you will instead find it a little musty, uncomfortable without really being unsettling, and not very deeply thought out.

You may have some difficulty locating the address, but will ultimately deduce that you’re meant to enter the lobby of a church on a somewhat desolate street, mostly identifiable by seeming to be perhaps the only inhabited building on that block. When you check in, you will be directed to a restroom (which is accessed via what appears to be a confessional and is lit only by candlelight) and a coat check. The woman running the coat check will introduce herself as Charles, hug you (and insist that you give her a “real hug” in return), and enquire about your general emotional state of well-being. She will ask your name (many people will ask your name over the course of the evening), tell you this is her house, and give you some instructions about where you can go if you find yourself uncomfortable or overwhelmed at any time in the house. (You may or may not find yourself uncomfortable, though overwhelmed might perhaps be overstating the level of scariness to be found. It may also be worth nothing that pizza will be delivered to Charles’s room, so you may want to check it out either way.)

You will wait, listening to trance music played by a DJ, until you’re summoned in a small group to the center of the lobby. You will watch the groups before you go in, and patiently wait your turn. Before you enter, you will be offered a shot of whiskey or soda water; unless you abstain from alcohol, you should go with the whiskey. It helps to get you in the right frame of mind. (You will be offered beverages at various points in your journey–beer, whiskey, tea, wine–and also possibly snacks, and you should probably take as many of them as you feel you will enjoy.) In the small group, you will be led outside and next door to the house, while being given a few instructions or warnings about how to conduct yourself within the house (again, these instructions seem to overestimate the level of fear, conflict, or confusion that will be engendered by the events in Houseworld). You may then be left alone in a courtyard with a woman who will ask to wash your hands and read you a poem. She will not be the last person to hold your hands.

Once inside the house, you will wander from room to room and floor to floor (alone, if you are there by yourself; some of the activities can be done only by one person at a time but many allow for group participation) for the majority of the evening, having conversations with various figures like a cook, a man with sensitive ears, a monster in the basement and his jailer, a bedridden woman in the attic, and others. While you may speak to almost all the performers, very rarely will you see them interact with one another. Each room/encounter is supposed to engender or recall a particular emotional state, but you will find this unclear.

You will encounter the piece’s creators, Andrew Hoepfner and Mike Campbell, in various guises. You may often find yourself with the choice of revisiting locations to which you’ve already been (the kitchen, for example, which is worth revisiting both because of the likelihood of procuring a drink or snack there and because the Cook, Salvatore Musumeci, is the performer who most relishes the spirit of the event) or lurking in a hallway waiting for the chance to engage in certain encounters that can only be done with a very small number of people in the room. (In one of the bathrooms, for example, one person at a time stands beneath a running shower, protected by a giant umbrella and galoshes, and discusses childhood memories with a performer. In another, you are instructed by a notecard to remove your shoes and lie down on a bed with your eyes closed, awaiting something.)

Sometimes you will be given tasks: to chop a tomato, or deliver a blueberry, or find a love potion, or steal a talismanic object, or play a board game with no rules. Other characters may complicate or assist you in these tasks, and other audience members may share knowledge they’ve gained from various locations (and the interactions with other audience members are as fruitful and rewarding as your interactions with the actors). As confrontational as some of these tasks feel–screaming at one of the characters, for example, or dragging another down a flight of stairs), your experience will feel much more purposeful and directed if you engage in them.

At certain points, you will be guided to assemble with the rest of the audience–once about ⅔ of the way through the event, and then for a longer period at the end, which you will spend on the floor of a church listening to peaceful, new-age-y music, waiting for “the light.” (The entire audience seemed to be about thirty people and could productively have been a bit smaller to make for a smoother journey through the piece for everyone–less waiting time, less cramped quarters when the full group was assembled.)

When the music ends and the performers begin helping you up, one by one, and leading you by the hand back out to the lobby, you will primarily feel relieved. Perhaps you were not in the right frame of mind for such an event. Perhaps if they’d not sent you in alone, you would have felt more adventurous, or perhaps you should have been more methodical in your determination to see all the rooms. You did not hate the entire experience, but you do not feel enlightened or moved by it.


Loren Noveck

Loren Noveck is a writer, editor, dramaturg, and recovering Off-Off-Broadway producer, who was for many years the literary manager of Six Figures Theatre Company. She has written for The Brooklyn Rail, nytheatre.com, and NYTheater now, and currently writes for The Brooklyn Paper and WIT Online. In her non-theatrical life, she works in book publishing.

Houseworld Show Info


Written by Andrew Hoepfner with Mike Campbell

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