The House Can’t Stand at the Rarig Center

Steve Epp in The House Can't Stand (Publicity Photo)

Theater de la Jeune Lune lives on in an original show written and performed by Steve Epp and directed by Dominique Serrand, presented May 17, 2010 at the Rarig Center on the University of Minnesota campus. In case you missed its earlier run, The House Can’t Stand has returned in a slightly edited version, which has surely tightened it up and made it a very engaging story in a comfortable time-frame. Jeune Lune had a way of going on a bit sometimes; this piece is very disciplined.

It’s also funny, thought-provoking, bristly at times, then warm and fuzzy. It’s a delight to watch someone so good create a universe out of so little, draw us in with a “let’s pretend” allure, then balance its hefty message with subtle clowning. Masterful.

If you must know what it’s about, it’s about politics, but there are no politicians, no speeches – except for snippets of Shakespeare – no rhetoric, preaching, ideology (unless you count that which is gleaned from Julius Caesar) or argument.

Epp’s character is a lonely, late middle-aged (I think. It’s hard to tell with men in drag) woman who is a Republican because her parents were Eisenhower Republicans. Her husband, recently deceased, was a Democrat, but those facts are just a means to set up the discussion she has with herself and a man on the phone. She’s supposed to meet this man – a person dangerously intriguing to her. Or is it intriguingly dangerous?

They do, indeed, meet at last at the theater, where skewed politics, world-changing events and classic theater meet on and off the stage, somehow personified in a perfect nobody who wants nothing but to have a conversation to ease her loneliness. I can’t explain why, but it all makes sense in much the same way that children playing make-believe is believable.

As her relationship with her dead husband serves to an extent as a metaphor for relationships in society, she compares her house to the world. Then, in her foray into the world beyond her kitchen, Epp snatches up every dry leaf of an opportunity to comment on questions of life large and small. “Who needs theater when there’s so much misery all around?” she quips, having wandered into a poor neighborhood.

And there’s plenty of theater commentary; Epp even slips in what must be a reference to Jeune Lune: “The sliver of a new moon going down,” she says poignantly, lost in the darkness, but a survivor of the night’s calamities nonetheless.

The play’s excuse for getting her out of the house sets off a mostly implausible sequence of events and fuels the development of a sinister plot, but it can’t stay entirely sinister because that would be missing the point. In the end, this play is just as much about love.

The House Can’t Stand runs through May 29.

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