Homeownership dreams come true, then fall apart in Stephanie Alison Walker’s overly ambitious American Home, whose intriguing premise and promising opening scenes soon develop into an excessively populated, tonally uneven, insufficiently involving World Premiere dramedy.

 The year is 2008, and young marrieds Dana and Mike Washington (Ozioma Akagha and Jono Eiland) have just chanced upon the Los Angeles home of Dana’s childhood dreams, a spacious two-story modern that may be stretching their budget, but with banks practically giving away loans these days, who’s counting pennies?

 Meanwhile out in the Midwest, the winter chill is considerably more frigid for elderly Ann Arbor widow Florence Rainwater (Bette Smith) what with the gas turned off and the wolf—in the presence of sheriff’s officer Robbie West (Marc Barnes)—quite literally at her door.

 Not so down south in Ft. Lauderdale, where skies are as sunny as the message of hope being delivered by mega-church preacher Paula (Jessica Kay Temple) to parishioner Marcus Jones (Ethan Rains): God’s promise of prosperity if only he takes the homeownership plunge.

 Then, as Fox TV-style pundits Hugo Storm (Mel Green) and Diane Zurich (Jennifer Adler) debate whether the current real estate market is boom or bubble, Dana and Mike, Florence, and Marcus find themselves discovering the truth in the most painful of ways.

Had playwright Walker stuck with these three main sets of characters, American Home might have ended up a trimmer, more involving, and ultimately more touching play (and one not overstaying its welcome by half-an-hour or so).

Instead, Caroline Westheimer shows up as assorted unfortunate souls (one chains herself to her house, another has mismanaged her husband’s finances to the point of foreclosure), women whose stories may illustrate the many ways Americans were affected when the real estate bubble burst but detract from our investment in the Washingtons, Florence, and Mike.

 It doesn’t help that Dana and Florence go into states of denial that prove more irritating than sympathy-gaining, as when the former strains credibility by setting about blithely repainting her unborn child’s bedroom just as a second Dana and Mike (Adler and Rains) show up with a flamboyant realtor (Green) to check out Dana and Mike 1.0’s soon-to-be ex-abode.

Nor does it help when American Home journeys even further into the absurd with Diane and Hugo providing comedic commentary as one character recovers from a botched suicide attempt and another contemplates jumping off a well-known “suicide bridge.”

Unfortunately, neither director Kate Woodruff nor her cast can overcome these and other tonal shifts, nor rarely has there been a production where so much time gets wasted moving furniture and other set pieces on and off stage.

 Akagha (luminous), Eiland (dashing), and Barnes (menschy) fare best among American Home’s refreshingly diverse ensemble, creating characters we mostly care about (except when Dana enters cuckoo land), and the always dynamic Rains is quite good too. Adler and Green are fun to watch in multiple roles each (even if Diane and Hugo outstay their welcome) and though a little of Preacher Paula goes a long way, Temple plays her with passion. Smith and Westheimer, on the other hand, need a sharper command of their lines.

 An uncredited scenic design necessitates too much time spent pushing tables and chairs and sofas and beds on and off stage in addition to requiring the audience to witness a patient get in and out of (and in and out of) the hospital bed to which she is presumably confined. Rob Van Guelpin’s lighting is effective as are Ellie Roth’s props and Paula Deming’s character appropriate costumes.

American Home is presented by Little Candle Productions. Betsy Roth is stage manager and Andrew Maldonado is assistant stage manager.

 I really wanted to like American Home, if only for the light it shines on the millions upon millions of Americans largely forgotten in the cinematic rollercoaster ride that was The Big Short. There’s potential for a terrific play on the Fremont Centre Theatre stage, but that’s all.

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Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
August 31, 2017
Photos: Melissa Blue


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