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Home stretch: New play uses film and video to explore the housing crisis

Circle of life: Isabella Uzcátegui and Kayla Asbell star in “House, or How to Lose an Orchard in 90 Minutes or Less,” debuting at Theater Mitu on Aug. 23.
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Talk about a full house!

A bizarre new play in Gowanus will explore what makes a house a home. “House, or How to Lose an Orchard in 90 Minutes or Less” combines intimate first-person interviews with Anton Chekhov’s 1903 play “The Cherry Orchard” and the 1977 cult-classic horror film “House,” to tell a provocative story about the meaning of shelter, said the show’s director.

“It’s really a meditation on these questions of housing, and what does a house mean?” said Rubén Polendo. “And to really zero in, not necessarily on the statistics of it, but more on the emotional aspects.”

The play — put on by the experimental, technology-heavy production company Theater Mitu — wants to engage the audience in a larger conversation about housing, using first-person interviews with homeless people, the tale of a family forced to sell their home, and eerie elements from a haunted house story, said Polendo.

“We ran a whole host of interviews with people who have lost their homes, or have transitioned their homes,” he said. “We wanted to also source a piece of literature to look at a meditation on that subject — that’s how we landed on ‘The Cherry Orchard.’ And, the third piece of the puzzle is a 1970s Japanese horror film called ‘House,’ which adds a sense of tension about what’s left behind.”

The show will features seven actors performing live on stage, as well as various television screens displaying pre-recorded video throughout the performance. Audience members will wear headphones, and all the sound from the videos and miked actors will be channeled directly to them, said Polendo.

“It has more in common with seeing a series of visual art installati­ons,” he said. “It does really feel like an intimate conversation that’s very personal and very emotional. The headphones really allow for that experience.”

Polendo hopes the audience will gain a new emotional understanding of homelessness and the plight of those who lack proper shelter.

“When you walk away, you walk away affected,” he said. “That can mean a lot of things. It can mean that you’ve heard or felt things about the subject that you hadn’t before, or it triggered your imagination.”

“House, or How to Lose an Orchard in 90 Minutes or Less” at MITU580 (580 Sackett St. between Nevins Street and Third Avenue in Gowanus, www.theatermitu.org). Aug. 23–Sept. 8, Tuesday-Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. $25.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577. Follow him at twitter.com/aidangraham95.
Updated 1:17 pm, August 20, 2019
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