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‘One House Over’ questions may simmer as audience heads to their own homes
The Rep delivers on drama about immigration


By JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

March 8, 2018


Mark Jacoby and Zoë Sophia Garcia in The Rep’s production of “One House Over.”
Photo by Michael Brosilow

MILWAUKEE - Upon entering the Rep theater, our eyes are drawn to the stage. A full house with a spacious backyard replete with gardens fills out the space. We are in Chicago in 2010.

Most of the action occurs in the backyard of Kevin Depinet’s awesome set, but we can see, by means of lighting and sheer curtains, inside the living room as well; we also get a glimpse of the basement, where a young immigrant couple live, by means of the basement shutters.

They have been hired by Joanne, the owner of the house, to help her care for her aging father.

The first character we meet is dozing on a chaise lounge. He is Milos, a grumpy old man, very well-rendered by Mark Jacoby. He is a Czech immigrant who was driven out by the Nazis as a young man and is now living with his daughter Joanne (Elaine Rivkin). He is difficult to handle sometimes. Aren’t we all?

Enter a married couple from Mexico (Camila and Rafael), looking for employment and always peering over their shoulder for fear of being deported, well-played by Zoë Sophia Garcia and Justin Huen, who speak fluent Spanish at times, giving us a flavor of culture clash.

The last character is Patty (Jeanne Paulsen), the woman next door, not a particularly friendly neighbor, but not an ogre either. There are no good guys or bad guys here. They’re all complex and fully realized by the skillful playwright, Catherine Trieschmann, a writer who has always been intrigued by relationships and the factors that nourish or stymie them.

In a country composed of immigrants, we are either welcoming or territorial to “the new kids on the block.” They are either seen as potential contributors or strange “others” to be shunned or somehow eliminated, an issue that is as old as the founding of this country.

As the story proceeds, we realize that each character is struggling with something: Milos, with old age and its concomitant issues; Joanne with caring for her aging father, the onset of breast cancer and loneliness; Camila with a longing to return to her native land; Rafael with his dream of owning his own Italian restaurant; and Patty, who is caring for an ailing husband and trying to be a good grandmother and a social activist as well.

There’s a line in the play where Patty asks Camila, “What do you covet?”  A good question, which gets partially answered by all the characters as we get to know each of them.

The issues of privacy versus disclosure, friendliness versus aloofness, are prominent here. Where do we set our boundaries with family, friends or neighbors? What kind of fences do we each build around ourselves for protection or for fear of being exposed and vulnerable? There’s not an easy answer to this one.

It’s a very enjoyable drama with its equal share of humor and pathos. With the immigration issue being such a prominent one today, this very well-written, well-acted examination of the complexities of the problem affords us plenty to think about as we leave the theater.


AT A GLANCE
“One House Over”

The play runs through March 25 at the Rep, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 or visit www.milwaukeerep.com.