Theresa Rebeck skewers reality TV in her very funny—and very smart—Our House, now getting a terrific West Coast Premiere at Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre.

 TV fans may recognize Rebeck’s name from this past season’s Smash, which she wrote and executive produced, or from her similar credits on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and NYPD Blue. In addition to her considerable success in the world of TV and film, however, Rebeck has continued to write for the stage, from 1990’s Spike Heels, to 2006’s The Water’s Edge, to 2007’s Mauritius, all of which have been raved about by this reviewer.

2009’s Our House is no exception, juxtaposing two very different realities, one of them the high power world of network TV, a world peopled by network execs like Wes (Mark Belnick), harried assistants like Stu (Patrick Hancock), and glamorous star reporters like Jennifer Ramirez (Ajarae Coleman). Forming the other of Our House’s two worlds is the considerably more mundane one in which a quartet of 30something housemates make vain attempts at peaceful coexistence.

Sharing communal digs are medical intern Grigsby (Jennifer Kenyon), legal secretary Alice (Rachel Germaine), computer whiz Vince (JB Waterman), and couch potato Merv (Kyle Ingleman), a lumpish sort who likes nothing better than to vegetate in front of the boob tube, either talking back to reality TV personality Sienna (who coincidentally or not shares a house with a bunch of other reality TV personalities on “Our House”) or fantasizing about none other than Jennifer Ramirez, who it just so happens does double duty as the host of said reality series.

 Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, TV’s “Our House” flatters Survivor/Big Brother by having each new episode bring about the forced exit of one of the housemates. Coincidentally or not, Merv’s real-life housemate Alice would like nothing better than to vote the deadbeat bum out onto the street, having gotten sick and tired of his steadily rising debts, a stack of IOUs that seem unlikely ever to be paid. That Merv keeps blithely swiping her health food from the fridge only adds insult to injury.

Throughout Act One, Rebeck has these two oh-so different worlds spinning simultaneously on the same stage without ever coming into contact, other than the televised images of Jennifer Ramirez which keep Merv glued to the tube.

An event then transpires that transports Jennifer quite literally from her own world smack dab into Merv’s, with unexpected consequences.

If you were to compare my previous Theresa Rebeck reviews, one thing would become perfectly clear: About the only thing Rebeck’s plays have in common is how intelligent and gripping they all are. Whether commenting on male-female relationships in Spike Heels or writing about scheming con artists and feuding siblings in Mauritius or expounding on the axiom that “Hell hath no fury like…” in The Water’s Edge, a Theresa Rebeck play guarantees edge-of-your-seat drama and plenty to talk about once the lights have gone back up on your own personal reality.

 Our House is no exception, whether it’s Wes complaining about the need to waste good TV time on The News simply because the “fucking morons” over at the “fucking FCC” say they must, or Alice waxing nostalgic about a summer spent in a section of Vermont where it was “like being a free person living in America because there was no television,” or Jennifer refusing to do any more “fucking reports on tropical fucking fish and apple martinis” because “I used to be real! I interviewed Koffi Annan.” Our House may be one of Theresa Rebeck’s funniest concoctions, but it’s also one of her most discussion-provoking.

For its first West Coast production, director Kiff Scholl insures that things move at a screwball pace, keeps it clear whose world we’re in, and elicits one comic gem of a performance after another from his cast of seven.

Germaine is terrifically funny in Alice’s self-righteous confrontations with Ingleman’s hilarious couldn’t-care-less slouch of a Merv. Kenyon is a marvelously grouchy Grigsby, with Waterman shining brightly as the housemates’ relative voice of reason.

 Over at the network, Belnick’s deadpan delivery fits Wes to a T, while Coleman positively dazzles as the newswoman with the most beautiful (and phoniest) smile in town. (The way Jennifer makes sure to rrrrroll the “R” in Ramirez is a particular treat.) Finally, there is the inimitable Hancock, brilliant as always as the quirky (i.e. cutely gay) Stu.

For Our House’s West Coast premiere, Wasatch Theatrical Ventures has assembled a top-notch design team that does Rebeck proud. Scenic designer Dan Mailley has created a set which adeptly merges the housemates’ abode and Wes and Jennifer’s stomping grounds. Sharell Martin’s costumes fit each character to perfection, with special snaps for Coleman’s sexy, clingy outfits. Matt Richter lights sets, costumes, and performers with his accustomed expertise. Sound and video designer Corwin Evans has assembled a phenomenal opening TV montage in addition to some live news broadcasts. (At the performance reviewed, however, sound sync was off in Jennifer’s upstage reports.)

Racquel Lehrman is producer and Laura Manchester associate producer for Theatre Planners. Angelica Estevez is stage manager.

Theater and TV fans alike will find much to savor in Our House, and those with a fondness for both genres will likely double their pleasure and their fun. Our House may not be the pleasantest place to reside, but it’s a whole lot of fun to visit.

NOTE: Understudies Pete Caslavka, Laura Emanuel, Chevonne Hughes, Edward Kiniry-Ostro, Jesse G. Louis, and Jacquelyn Zook will be going on from July 20-22, with Belnick holding on to the role of Wes.

Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
July 8, 2012
Photos: Ed Krieger

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