Review: Eviction Spurs Excavation in "This God Damn House"

This God Damn House

Written by Matthew McLachlan

Directed by Ella Jane New; Assistant Director: David Zayas Jr.

Presented by the Chain Theatre

312 W. 36th Street, 3rd Floor, Manhattan, NYC

March 15-April 8, 2023

Sachi Parker (Angie), Kirk Gostkowski (Jacob), and Gabriel Rysdahl (Danny). Photo by David Zayas Jr.
In playwright Matthew McLachlan's marvelous This God Damn House, making its world premiere at The Chain Theatre, the dwelling in question belongs to Florida resident and longtime teacher Angie (Sachi Parker). Angie is a hoarder; but if her house is messy, her relationship with her family is messier. And if the former can be seen to symbolize aspects of the latter, the ties that bind her family are both more important than her material accumulation and less easily separated into keep and discard piles. As past traumas meet a present crisis, This God Damn House turns a sensitive but unblinking gaze upon Angie and her sons as they grapple with who they have been and will be to one another.

When the play begins, Angie has about 14 hours until she is evicted from her home, which has been foreclosed upon by the bank. Her son Danny (Gabriel Rysdahl), who, in an echo of McLachlan himself, is a playwright who moved from Florida to New York, has returned to help clear out the house before the sheriff's department arrives. Her other son, Jacob (Kirk Gostkowski), once a promising actor and now a wedding photographer, has stayed in Florida, making himself available to help his mother whenever she asks. Danny's move to NYC enacted a reversal of Jacob's going off to college and leaving Danny alone with their mother, who was by then divorced from their father and often abusive, and Danny's return draws Jacob's guilt over that time to the surface. Into this volatile mix come first the earnest Hannah (Rica de Ocampo), Angie's teacher's aide, who has seen only a certain side of Angie, and later Jacob's pregnant wife (and business partner), Ally (Christina Perry), the spelling of whose name points to her support of Jacob against his manipulative mother and whose baby-to-be represents the undefined future of this relatably troubled family.
Gabriel Rysdahl (Danny) and Rica de Ocampo (Hannah) Photo by David Zayas Jr.
Hannah is the caretaker for her grandmother, who primarily raised her, offering some instructive parallels and contrasts between her experience and perspective and those of Jacob, Ally, and Danny. In Angie, who demonstrates an ability to throw away familial and spectatorial sympathy as quickly as she gains it, the play gets at the ways in which behaviors such as hoarding act as a means of exercising control for people who feel that they don't have any, a coping mechanism for loss. The kinds of intrafamilial power struggles that unfold in This God Damn House are of course not restricted to families with hoarders, or even with overt trauma, and the production poignantly captures the conflicting tangles of love, resentment, affection, and obligation that are part of what it means to belong to even the most placid of families. Needless to say, tranquil harmony is not the order of the day in this particular house, and the explosions that do occur (director Ella Jane New showed similar facility with ratcheting up the tension of an interpersonal pressure cooker in last year's macbitches) effectively punctuate unimpeachable performances by a superb cast. De Ocampo's Hannah struggles with wanting to see the best in Angie (in a nice touch, an early gesture of wiping off her hands after carrying an item out of the house works both realistically and symbolically); Rysdahl and Gostkowski compellingly convey a sense of shared history and of the nuances and pressures of Danny and Jacob's relationships to each other and to their mother; and Perry's strong, supportive, but clear-eyed Ally wins over the audience more or less as soon as she steps onto the stage. At the center of all this, Parker's turn as Angie is a complex, prickly, layered tour de force.

Capping off the terrific work by these actors, the perfectly crafted final line of This God Damn House encapsulates the hard emotional truth of a production that will stick with you; you'll have only yourself to curse at if you miss it.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards  

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