Safe as Houses, a Joking Envelope Production at Minneapolis Theater Garage

Safe As Houses publicity photo

The house appears innocuous. It’s pleasant and airy, with a few books, an anemic plant, cheapo Venetian blinds, a couch, a table containing realtor’s photos and info sheets. But the offstage areas, the bone strewn basement, the viciously haunted breakfast nook (“It sucks the life right out of you”), the all-sharp-edges kitchen, the bloody mattresses in the upstairs bedrooms were assembled by someone with the interior design sensibility of Ed Gein. Not surprisingly, this bizarre place has been on the market for three plus years. But today a mark, er, customer, has arrived: Darla, a wealthy proctologist. The wild-eyed agent, Charles “David” Glenfiddich, intends to sell Darla this house if it kills him. Which it might.

In lesser hands, Tom Poole‘s surreally funny Safe As Houses (Joking Envelope, at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin, through April 17, might have been a snooze. Pacing is deliberate and many scenes are talky. But Poole is a writer of ferocious imagination and his grasp of the English tongue is tart and almost always spot on. I found myself leaning forward, grinning, anxious to catch every image, every clever turn of phrase. “I may not close but I’m always closing. It’s an inexorable process.” Great.

The writing is first rate, but the main reason the play flies is that Poole (who directs as well as writes) displays an impeccable instinct for acting. This stuff is eminently playable and Poole has assembled a first rate cast to do the playing. This is the most substantial role this writer has seen Mo Perry do and she doesn’t disappoint, sinuously holding the stage, soft-spoken, with a sweet yet bizarre and knowing smile. She’s not, of course, who she says she is but we don’t care, we’ll follow this woman anywhere. Perry fans – and I know there many of you – should line up to see her play this part.

Similarly excellent are Joseph Scrimshaw (Joking Envelope’s co-artistic director) and Anna Sundberg as the inept shills who try to force Darla to buy the house at an inflated price. Scrimshaw is amiably icky and Sundberg, with her thick eye make-up, periodically pulling her fake pregnancy pillow forward to scratch at her belly, gives a stumblingly brilliant performance.

But the best reason to see Safe As Houses is Chris Carlson, who plays “David” with blustery and lumbering comic charisma. A large man with a resonant room-filling voice, Carlson starts slow, looking for all the world like a real realtor. But then we notice his adamant refusal to go upstairs, or into the kitchen. We hear his flights of wild fancy, see his fierce focus on Carla, listen to his increasingly hysterical cell phone calls, all of which builds to an over-the-top comic explosion in Act 2 that had me screaming with laughter.

A tip top script and even better acting: recommended.

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