Building Better People Productions’ performance of Dream House: A Rainy Day Play, is a funny, clever show about the power of imagination. Written by Jeremy Gable and directed by Lynne Childress, the one-woman play features Taylor Payne as Jenn, a young woman returning to her unhappy childhood home determined to fix up the place, sell it, and buy her dream house, but not before she has a “super fun day” outside. Foiled by a thunderstorm, she is forced to entertain herself, and confront her own fears. Although aimed more for children, there’s plenty for grown-ups to laugh at and think about. Performed at the Annapolis Friends Meeting House, the show proves that good theater can be done anywhere.
Taylor Payne is a wonderfully talented actress. She captures the audience’s attention right from the start, striding into the lobby and walking right into the boxes piled in front. She asks the audience to pick up boxes and take them into the main room, which they gladly do. When the lightning strikes, she asks the audience to count with her how long before the thunder booms. She plays Jenn with an almost childlike quality, moving from anger at her ruined plans to fear of the thunder (at one point hiding behind a chair), to pure joy at playing with all the items in the house, and letting her imagination run wild.
And what an imagination! Payne throws herself into her play, flying on the floor as a superhero fighting an alien invader, having a wooden spoon and a tong fight each other, giving the tong an exaggerated death scene, finger-painting on the walls (she just mimes that), and dancing with glowsticks in a pretend rave. Payne has great comic timing, and a wonderful sense of what’s funny. She waves the tong close to the front row in its death scene, getting many giggles. Hiding behind the chair at one point, she turns her hands into puppets, hanging over the top of the chair and having a nonsensical conversation.
Perhaps Payne’s most impressive feat is creating different characters, each with their own distinct voice, and personality. The house itself is a recurring one, speaking in an old-fashioned Brooklyn tough-guy accent, with a lamp, an oven lid, a coffee maker, and a trash can as the “mouth.” The house has an adversarial relationship with Jenn at first, convincing her to start unpacking when she doesn’t want to, and teasing her when the thunder booms, telling her not to be “such a baby.” She gives the wooden spoon a funny English accent. With the help of a mustache drawn on a finger, she becomes her father, adopting a silly voice and explaining to her what thunder is, which she, playing herself as a little girl, hears as “clouds’ toots.”
Payne also plays her aunt Greta (who takes in little Jenn after her father’s death), in a severe voice, and treats the girl sternly, passing along her own fears. She gives one of the boxes a voice and a name, Kevin, and confides in him about her father’s death. She plays another character who, without giving away the plot, helps resolve things between Jenn and the house, and is a physical transformation of Payne as well. Watching her switch effortlessly between all the different characters is impressive.
Renee Vergauwen has done a wonderful job with props and costume design. A small, black oval chair holds center stage, with a small table behind it holding a coffeemaker and convection oven. To the right is a small bookcase holding an encyclopedia set. To the left of the chair is a lamp with a flexible light. Further left is a box with the head of a plastic horse sticking out. Scattered in between are several large boxes, filled with items like an apron, a “happy birthday” banner, a jar of paint and a paintbrush, all which Jenn uses in unusual and unexpected ways. Jenn’s outfit is a simple young professional’s: black pants and a purple sweater. On entering, she carries a cell phone.
The sound design by Emily Shipley, Tessa Fowler, and Lynne Childress is clever and well-done. The sound stage is to the far right offstage, throwing out convincing noises of thunder with varying distances, and normal house sounds that create a spooky feel during a storm. Combined with the scattered props, the sounds help add to the house’s feel as an unloved, neglected place.
Lynne Childress has done a terrific job as Director, especially in using the Annapolis Friends Meeting House for a theater. Although a somewhat unconventional place to put on a show, Payne and the crew make it work perfectly, getting the audience involved right from the start, as they move from the main room to the lobby and back again. The action moves quickly and naturally, flowing seamlessly. Everything comes together for a delightful afternoon of fun, laughter, and some great thoughts for children and parents alike. Although Dream House is finished its current run in Annapolis, be sure to catch future shows from Building Better People Productions!
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.
Dream House: A Rainy Day Play played August 18 and 25 at Annapolis Friends Meeting House – 351 Dubois Road in Annapolis, MD. For information on future performances and upcoming shows from Building Better People Productions, visit their website.