The dysfunctional family is an often-mined subject for drama, from the early Greeks to the present. The play "Housebreaking," by Jakob Holder, combines humor with an exploration of failed relationships and dreams.
Artistic director Karen Paisley was asked to choose some scripts for readings at the Mid-America Theatre Conference when it took place in Kansas City. It was a blind reading - she didn't know who'd written the scripts - and selected two by the young playwright, Jakob Holder, a protégé of Edward Albee.
"His work is really solid, and thoughtful, and insightful in ways that you don’t expect," says Bob Paisley, who directed one of Holder’s works at the conference. Since that time, the Paisleys have stayed in touch with Holder and grown together in the process.
A comedy of "gut-wrenching ideas"
In 2006, MET directed a script-in-hand reading of Holder's work called "Whitehorse." And this season, Bob Paisley directs "Housebreaking." The play was first presented in a showcase in New York as part of the Cherry Lane Mentor Project, then in Austin by the Poison Apple Initiative, and now, by Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, in Kansas City.
Paisley says the play raises "serious and gut-wrenching ideas" such as "Who are we, how do we take advantage of where we are in life and what do we do with the grace that we’ve been given? What happens if it gets taken away from you? How do you fight back for that?"
As the play opens, Chad, a young man in his 30s, after a night of drinking, brings a homeless man, Carmine, back to the house he shares with his sister, Magda, and his father, who constantly listens to sports with his headphones on.
Family at a breaking point
The father, played by Bob Elliot, is kindly, but still grieving for his late wife. Elliot says it’s a role that allows him to dig deep.
"Really good plays and really good parts allow an actor to kind of channel his past, and his own life and kind of bring it through you to the audience," says Elliot.
Chad’s sister, Magda, a bartender full of hostility, is played by Missy Fennewald. For her, the family is at a breaking point.
"Our life has been going, it’s nothing what we wanted it to be," says Fennewald. "It didn’t turn out to be any way that we imagined."
Bryan Moses, who’s also the Associate Artistic Director at The Living Room, plays Chad, who's bored with his life and his job.
"He’s highly intelligent, but (he) just doesn’t feel like he’s feeling anything in his life," says Moses.
Stepping outside one life, holding on to a second chance
In "Housebreaking," Chad decides to change lives with the homeless man, Carmine, played in the MET production by Forest Attaway.
"You’ve got to come in with your thinking cap when you watch this play," says Attaway. "It’s very dense, it’s very smart, it’s very well-written. The characters, the environment.
"For me, as an actor, it's pretty exciting stuff. I rarely get to play this character who gets to step outside...to find a life that was like his previous life, sort of get a second chance at life. And then, to do everything he can to hold on to that."
In the second act, Chad returns home. He's confronted by Carmine, who makes it clear that he’s not welcome.
Here, Carmine (Forrest Attaway) confronts Chad (Bryan Moses) when he returns home:
"Two years ago, what you did, 'Thank you for that.' What you did for me, I appreciate. I said 'thank you' for that," Carmine says. "You left...file deleted."
Director Bob Paisley says there’s comedy, as well as a great sweetness and dedication between the characters despite the twists and turns of the plot. Paisley says some of Jakob Holder’s other plays are already on MET’s short list.
"Housebreaking" by Jakob Holder runs through January 27 at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main, Kansas City, Mo. tel: 816-569-3226.