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Where Goes the Neighborhood? “House/Divided” at Thurber Theatre

Jeff Regensburger Jeff Regensburger Where Goes the Neighborhood? “House/Divided” at Thurber Theatre
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Protesters have occupied Wall Street. Income inequality has spiked at levels not seen since the Great Depression. Wealth continues to migrate toward the nation’s top earners while poverty rates soar. Class warfare has become the accusation de jour and all the while the middle class shrinks. Given this climate it’s nearly impossible to view The Builders Association production of “House/Divided” without extending the title’s metaphor to our current social and political climates. We’re a house that is nothing if not divided.

And how did we get here? That’s a big question, though it’s safe to say that part of the answer lies in the issues raised (razed?) in “House/Divided”. In a production that combines elements of theater, journalism, installation art, and documentary film making The Builders Association presents a textured narrative that examines the systems, attitudes, and individuals that starred in the current housing crisis.

Inspired by John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, “House/Divided” melds the story of the displaced Joad family with the ongoing housing meltdown. Interviews with real estate buyers, clean-out crews, and individuals caught up in the crisis are set amid the partial remains of a foreclosed Weinland Park home. In alternating sequences, the Joads leave their home to take up their arduous journey west. While the connection with “The Grapes of Wrath” is clear, it is perhaps more telling to consider “House/Divided” as it relates to Steinbeck’s newspaper writing.

In October of 1936 John Steinbeck was commissioned by the San Francisco News to write a series of articles on the plight of migrant workers in California. These articles were eventually published under the title “The Harvest Gypsies”. Today this collection is recognized as both the inspiration for and the moral underpinnings of “The Grapes of Wrath”. Upon witnessing the suffering of California’s migrant workers Steinbeck wrote to his friend and agent Elizabeth Otis, “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.” At the time he believed newspaper writing was the most effective means to that end.

In a similar way, there’s a strong journalistic sense applied to “House/Divided”. It’s not the expository who, what, where, when, how, and why format taught in communications classes, but it’s a kind of journalism nonetheless. Interviews, transcripts, dramatizations, satellite images and the foreclosed home itself give the heft of fact to a story that might otherwise have drifted toward moralizing and blame. Which isn’t to say there’s not some blaming in the mix. While “House/Divided” toes a mostly civil line, clips from Lehman Brothers press conferences as well as a pointed re-enactment of Alan Greenspan’s Congressional testimony make it clear that “House/Divided” sees a fair share of blame falling on an unregulated financial sector.

Ultimately though, it’s the local connection that helps to make “House/Divided” such a compelling work. Its connection to the campus area, its affiliation with the Creative Campus initiative, and the partnerships developed across a wide range of disciplines make this production something that’s simultaneously epic and intimate. It’s art that connects with the community; acting as a mirror and asking if we like what we see.

“House/Divided” will be performed Friday October 7 and Saturday October 8 in the Thurber Theatre at Drake Center. Show times are 8:00 PM.

For more information visit the Wexner Center for the Arts Performing Arts page.

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