Smile Politely

The Open House at The Station Theater

What’s your family like?  Is your family quiet, respectful, and always considerate of each other’s thoughts and feelings?

Nope, neither are mine, and I would be truly impressed if someone was able to find any family that did behave like that, which is why I sincerely enjoyed in the play The Open House by Will Eno, shown at the Station Theater.

The Open House begins with father, played by Lincoln Machula, uncle (Jeff McGill), mother (Nancy Keener), son (Evan Seggebruch), and daughter (Annie Roach) sitting in the family room because both kids have come home to visit their father, who has recently suffered a stroke. And let me tell you, it’s the most humorously awkward scene you could possibly experience. Both kids are sitting on the couch, clearly bored and not so happy to be home, Uncle walks around as if in a daze while making out of the blue clever remarks, while dad sits in his wheelchair reading the paper, and mom makes empty after empty statement to fill the silence. What keeps this scene from being awkward for the audience, or even worse, boring, is the dad’s hilarious dark wit, which he employs every time basically anybody speaks. His outrageousness is clearly felt and known by everyone, and it is easy to see many of the problems their family experiences shared by our own families. Lincoln Machula played the role of Dad perfectly, blending sarcasm and humor seamlessly that made you shake with laughter, but also ask your neighbor if he really just said that.  

As the play progresses, the daughter attempts to bring people into conversation only to have many of her attempts rebuffed. There is always the feeling that they are circling around each other, wanting to bridge the gap but never really knowing how, and it is this tension that gives the audience an on-edge feeling, as if we all recognized that something was wrong but had no idea how to fix it. I was impressed by how Annie Roach played the difficult role of both peace keeper, but also upstart. The daughter is the type to bluntly ask her family, “why are we like this?”, after a particularly awkward silence, and Annie’s performance was what gave Open House the flat honesty it needed to make sure there was more to the show than just dark humor and a dysfunctional family. I appreciated those moments that kept the show fresh.

Nowhere is this more clearly felt then when the daughter leaves to go buy food for dinner and on the way out, announces that she is awaiting test results after discovering a lump on her spine. In most cases, you would expect the family to be horrified and concerned, however in this situation the biggest response she receives is Nancy Keener, as her mother, telling her that everything will be alright, and asking if is she sure she doesn’t need money for food. This scene was one of my favorites because it laid out in stark terms the ambivalence people can sometimes develop towards one another, even when they are at their most vulnerable, and reflected how sometimes it’s the people we most love to whom we can be the most cruel.

Nancy Keener, Jeff McGill, and Evan Seggebruch all played their roles convincingly and with the foolish humor required to alleviate tense moments. As an ensemble, the actors blended well with each other, which I imagine is something quite difficult to do. The play itself does a wonderful job on commenting about can families really ever change, and if yes, why don’t we, and if no, well, where does that leave us?

The Open House was smart, well-crafted, and used humor and wit to expose the complexities and problems that seem to plague every family; boredom, bickering, and perhaps a wish that we could step back and appreciate the ones who are closest to us, especially if we aren’t able to be with them often. I left highly entertained, and would recommend The Open House for anyone looking to do the same, and, just maybe, gain some insight into their own family. Good luck!

The Open House by Will Eno is playing at The Station Theater October 1st-4th, 7th-11th, and 14th-17th at 8 p.m. The Station Theater is located at 223 North Broadway Avenue in Urbana. Ticket reservations can be made online or by calling 217-384-4000.

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