House Inspection

A s you find your seat at Long Wharf Theatre, the stage is already set for Eliana Pipes’s Dream Hou$e—specifically, the living room. Floral art and Madonnas hang on stucco walls near old-fashioned furniture and a trove of family photos. Dappled light evokes trees and latticework through unseen windows. Soft instrumental music seems upbeat and vaguely familiar. This is a neat, comfy, cozy space, the kind where you’d have a long chat with an elderly relative. An empty half-gallon of ice cream on a side table and a moving box on the settee are the only hints of things gone awry.

And for the next hour and forty minutes, almost everything goes awry. The house is owned by sisters Patricia and Julia Castillo, but it won’t be for long. Now located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, their familial home, inhabited by generations of Castillos, could be worth millions. Patricia is determined to sell, and, after a period of absence, pregnant Julia has returned for the filming of Flip it and List It, a home renovation reality show Patricia believes will maximize the sale price.

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New Haven Symphony Orchestra

But when Flip It’s hilariously plastic and alarmingly elastic host, Tessa Westbrook, and her silently efficient crew begin restyling both the house and its history for the sake of ‘good television,’ conflicts within and between the sisters emerge. Fault lines branch like their family tree itself throughout the rest of the play, forcing the sisters to evaluate the true sources and merits of their competing motives and desires. Along the way, audiences are treated to a series of sophisticated and resonant moral debates and negotiations, often triggered by Westbrook’s temptations and provocations.

Playwright Pipes and director Laurie Woolery make big ideas—about desire, power, identity, culture, family, love—feel grounded, even when dabbling in the surreal. After Patricia takes a sledgehammer to the living room wall, the house literally bleeds from the wound. When Julia and Patricia take a private moment to argue, the set darkens and the other actors freeze, which we discover isn’t just a storytelling device after Westbrook, to her own surprise, gains the ability to participate. The sisters ignore her at first, but the reality host soon figures out how to stop and start time on her own and uses this to her advantage.

Renata Eastlick (Patricia) and Darilyn Castillo (Julia) give nuanced performances as flawed and complicated people facing the kind of challenges that change you, and Marianna McClellan nails the part of the slick TV personality with a nose for drama. But while the latter gets the last lines of the show—“I got what you deserve! Didn’t I? Aren’t you happy?”—it’s the sisters who remain center stage during a fittingly untidy ending. Afterward, as I listened to part of the discussion facilitated by Cheyenne Barboza, Long Wharf’s Community Artistic Associate, it was clear that Dream Hou$e left me and the rest of the audience with a wealth of big questions and intimate, telling moments to ponder.

Dream Hou$e
Long Wharf Theatre – 222 Sargent Dr, New Haven (map)
Through April 3, 2022
(203) 693-1486

Written by Heather Jessen. Images provided courtesy of Long Wharf Theatre.

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Heather Jessen is a poet and writer who likes asking questions. She’s in awe of the educators, artists and social workers who’ve helped New Haven kids and families during the pandemic.

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