As an audience member, one appeal of a Fringe festival is the possibility of being stretched by the unfamiliar. This is the case in House + A-1 Steak House, a double bill from playwright Richard Maxwell of the New York City Players, billed as an “exciting night of theatrical absurdity, haunting banality and steak!”.
The night starts in a ground floor foyer with A-1 Rolling Steak House, directed by Paola Unger. It’s a ten-minuter about a travelling crew – Steve (Josh Ryan), Ray (Adrian Auld) and Junior (Paul Slattery) – setting up their meat cooking stand and spruiking their A-1 brand wares. Having been on the road a long time, tensions between them are clear.
As they awarded prizes to the audience, I took them for an over-tired promotional team, not a desperate sales team, and so have to admit that it’s aim “to reveal truths about the competitive workplace within our consumer society” was lost on me and concluding utterance of the mobile robot’s was unclear.
The second part was on a new level – up the stairs. House distorts the familiar architecture of domestic life while giving enough footholds so that it is not a complete fortress.
Mike (played with an apt promise of malice by Roderick Cairns) has a nice line going in getting stuff that local government types people want, and as his partnershi has unravelled, there’s some unfinsihed business with the Mayor. Father (played by Lyall Brooks with an effortless smugness) is the head of his house, and does most of the talking, even if Wife (Julia Grace) and Son (Harrison Smith), aren’t listening. Father conceals his past from Wife, so she can’t answer Son’s questions and the unresolved problems always come back.
Although still turning over some of House’s more absurd matters, Samara Hersch’s direction gave a visceral understanding of the characters, such as a memorable stylised fight that showed how Father’s self-satisfaction, supercillious nature and disinterest in adapting to change contributed to his defeat.
Eugyeene Teh’s transforming stage design was a welcome surprise, but I would advise viewers to avoid sitting at the extreme left edge of rows as the appearance of a solid barrier part-way through the play made some of the action along the left wall – I suspect a critical scene between Mike and Son – invisible.
Feeling suitably stretched and happy to see the return of the craft of the director (after it’s absence from some recent shows) I recommend this performance ad it’s sure to cause stimulating post-theatre discussions on the way back to your own house.