The Question House
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
February 25, 2009
It is always refreshing to see a playwright take a chance. Sometimes it seems like the same story has been told again and again, play after play, so when a concept comes along that seems like a challenge, especially on the part of the playwright, I jump at the chance to see how it went off. Playwright Tara Dairman absolutely took a chance with The Question House, challenging herself to write a 40-minute play almost entirely free of declarative statements; unfortunately the play falls short of its ambitions.
The idea is that a small mom-and-pop kind of company—what they actually do there is never quite established—has for some random reason been cursed so that anyone who speaks in a declarative sentence is struck down dead by some unseen force. Apparently this has gone on for 40 years when we join the action and there have only been two fatalities up to this point. The stakes couldn't be higher and the play has the potential to keep the audience completely engaged, waiting for each visitor in the house to misspeak. It is life or death and there are landmines to sidestep around every corner, yet somehow the script falls short and Catherine Siracusa's direction misses the mark. It seems her intention was to create a farce, the actors going way over the top with excessive gesturing and physical indications, but it didn't sell. Offsetting the outlandish dialogue with some true honesty about the matters at hand that would compliment the script—rather than pushing the dialogue—would have been wiser.
I am a big fan of language and using words in unconventional ways, but writing solely in the inquisitive is difficult and it peters out pretty early on, using the same words to start each question repeatedly. There is heavy exposition throughout the play, which over-explains the situation of the house with presenting any new facts. The exposition finally breaks, if only for a moment, when Charlie Peat, played by Nick DiSimone, enters for a job interview. Watching DiSimone attempt to speak only in questions without knowing why and all during an interview is the high point of the show. The rest of the cast can only be described as adorably energetic and they truly seem to be enjoying themselves on stage. There is also an impressive special effect by Michael Broughton involving a declarative boom box.
The biggest problem with this show is that I never understood what it was trying to tell me. In the press material Dairman says, "I wrote The Question House when I was...filled with anxiety about what the corporate world might hold in store for me..." yet the play isn't even set in a corporate environment. The intention is confusing and never fleshed out. When the unmotivated ending finally rolled around I was left with the question I had at the start: Why?