Who in the hell would want to live in only 200 square feet of space?
Most of us would shy away from the prospect of living in a tiny house, valuing our possessions, elbow room and non-composting toilets too much to make the switch.
But what you shouldn’t shy away from is Cleveland Play House’s world premiere staging of “Tiny Houses,” a story of self-discovery that is refreshingly honest, current and introspective.
Cath and Bohdi have made the bold decision to build and live in a 200-square-foot tiny house. The couple leave the city, move back to Bohdi’s hometown in Oregon and begin building their home in the backyard of Bohdi’s eccentric friend, Ollie. Soon, Ollie begins to help build the house along with Jenve, Bohdi’s girl-next-door childhood friend and first love.
As their project extends past their three-month schedule, Cath and Bohdi question their decisions and desires, especially after Cath hires construction consultant Jerimiah to help them finish the tiny house.
Director and CPH artistic director Laura Kepley does a wonderful job of translating playwright Chelsea Marcantel’s script. What she does most successfully is guide her cast so that the characters feel authentic as they discover what it is that they most want in life.
Kate Eastman is remarkably relatable as Cath. The character is intelligent, independent, motivated, driven and so many other great qualities. What Cath isn’t is sure of herself and her decisions, despite having a previously successful career in finance. Eastman ensures that there is an obvious depth and likability to this character.
What also feels authentic is Cath and Bohdi’s mutual adoration for one another. At the beginning of the show, their fondness of each other was expressed through movements and loving gestures that conveyed a physical familiarity.
Peter Hargrave is charming and kind as Bohdi. He is loving but also stubborn. Bohdi puts his foot into his mouth more than once, but just like Cath, he is struggling to find his place in the world. Hargrave is certainly empathy worthy, especially when he begins doubting himself and his choice to live the tiny lifestyle.
The most down-to-earth character is construction guru Jerimiah. Played by the talented James Holloway, he is a solid and sure presence on the stage, stabilizing some of the craziness emanating off of the other characters.
One of those aforementioned characters is Jevne, portrayed by Nandita Shenoy. Jevne is the quintessential modern hippy. She makes ASMR videos that around 500,000 subscribers listen to and has never gotten over her childhood boyfriend. In this role, Shenoy is sweet, weird and wonderful.
The eccentric Ollie played by Michael Doherty is another obvious audience favorite. He collects and sells haunted dolls for a living—yes, haunted dolls. Doherty plays the character with a sense of pure joy and innocence that is just downright enjoyable.
Costume designer Amy Clark helps portray the personality of each character by dressing them in their own individual style. Ollie adorns unique converse, bright patterned shorts and a cat sweater, Jevne is often in dresses with colorful socks and the other three are dressed more conservatively. The characters change outfits very frequently, for time is passing constantly.
During transitions between scenes, the audience is watching the actors (and a few uniformed stagehands) build the tiny house. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set design begins with only a flatbed trailer and, by the end of the show, is a complete tiny house.
These transition periods are sometimes lengthy—and for good reason, they are constructing a house after all—but always entertaining. Fun, indie music is interspersed with sounds of power tools by sound designer Daniel Perelstein and projections on the walls mark the passage of weeks.
Elizabeth Mak’s lighting design successfully mimics sunlight, working well with the turf on the ground acting as a stage. The lighting also affectively isolates characters as they engage in unique, podcast-like dialogue interludes.
Each of the four main characters takes a moment between transition periods to speak to the audience as if they were podcasting. For example, Ollie talks about what to look for when buying a haunted doll, Jevne performs her ASMR videos and Bohdi speaks to his career as a life-coach. These interludes were slightly bizarre at first, but they increase in relevance and begin revealing important details about the characters.
It’s not guaranteed that by the end of the show you’ll be ready to live in a tiny house, but you’ll love the time you spent watching one being built.
Through April 14 at the Outcalt Theatre. For info and tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to clevelandplayhouse.com
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