Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see Bill's review of What You Are
Rolan (Behzad Dabu) and Caroline (Shannon Matesky) have come back to Caroline's childhood home in Evanston, Illinois, at the end of a third date. It's a big house (the scenic design is by Arnel Sancianco) and Caroline's parents are away. The couple make romantic small talk, commenting in passing on the sound of sirens penetrating what is normally a quiet neighborhood. They are interrupted by Josephine (Linda Libby), a neighbor Caroline knows from childhood. Josephine tells them of an emergency that has overtaken the entire region, points them to a website she claims is the only place where accurate information is available, and begs their assistance in getting ready to ride her bicycle to downtown Chicago, where she plans to get help.
After seeing Josephine off, Caroline and Rolan take what little information they have and decide to barricade themselves inside the backyard of the house. There, they wait for whatever the emergency will bring their way. Providing much more information would spoil the suspense that Chicago playwright Ike Holter attempts to build as a newly romantic couple deals with a panic that might invade at any minute.
There are resonances of the horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers in both the emergency and what it seems to do to its victims. Just as that film seemed to criticize the 1950s culture of conformity, so Put Your House in Order could easily be seen to take issue with 2019's culture of fear, panicking about something completely unknown with consequences that are only imagined.
On the other hand, in his writing, Mr. Holter also seems to fall victim to horror movie clichés, including making the victims young and naïve and putting them in situations where they head toward danger, rather than away from it. In addition, he sets up a situation where all of the potentially panicking information comes from sources that may be unreliable. Caroline and Rolan may have trouble being prepared because they don't have a good idea of how to prepare.
Director Lili-Anne Brown has worked with Mr. Holter in the past, and she does her best to balance the romantic comedy with suspense and horror. The cast, too, works hard. Mr. Dabu is an attractive actor who does very well with the romantic repartee. Ms. Matesky smartly plays the suspense and increasing panic. Ms. Libby creates an ambiguous character whose motives aren't always clearand, she's too panicked to explain them completely.
Amanda Zieve's lighting design accommodates spookiness and some special lighting effects, and David Israel Reynoso's costumes look authentic and up to the moment. Victoria Deiorio's sound design makes sirens pierce effectively.
But, ultimately, Mr. Holter's script lets everyone down.
Put Your House in Order, through June 30, 2019, at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla CA. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30pm; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 7pm; and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are available by calling 858-550-1010 or by visiting lajollaplayhouse.org.