Safe as Houses (Theater spotlight)

Chris Carlson
Tom Poole

In Tom Poole's scattershot new comedy, real estate agent Charles "David" Glenfiddich (Chris Carlson) arrives for an open house at a property that, given the two rooms we see, seems perfectly normal. It's anything but, of course, a fact quickly confirmed when prospective buyer Darla (Mo Perry) walks offstage to inspect the kitchen and returns gasping for breath and muttering about the existential despair evoked by the breakfast nook. Charles and Darla engage in a bit of elliptical patter, talking around the awfulness of the place (later, Darla dares a trip upstairs, returning with talk of flying razor blades and shattering medicine chests). An ostensibly married couple arrives: Steve (Joseph Scrimshaw) and Angie (a rage-tastic Anna Sundberg) are clearly not all they seem, particularly when the pregnant Angie's bun in the oven continually shifts to various points on her torso. We get the picture that Charles is damned desperate to sell, but Poole's script is all over the place on the matter (Poole also directs). The house is a metaphor for rottenness and incoherence beneath placid surfaces, but it may or may not be haunted, or it might be an apparent killing ground. The characters are similarly hard to pin down (the first act drifts and looks for focus, with Carlson and Perry playing out power dynamics that never gel), though matters improve after intermission. Houses boasts a terrific, energized cast and no shortage of laughs. But our plate overflows with twists, some unnecessary, and it's hard to keep track of what is being satirized: commerce, propriety, actors, America, Catholics, what have you. It's a work that could do with enthusiastic pruning (at more than two hours long, there's plenty of opportunity), because at its best the show is caustic, eerie, despairing, and darkly funny. By the end, Steve is looking through a cache of what appears to be human bones, and Angie has long since made her amoral, maniacal getaway. It's strong and weird, but it shouldn't wander and weave so much along the way. $18-$20. 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun. Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.280.9210. Through April 17

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