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‘HOUSE/DIVIDED’ opens UMass Fine Arts Center

  • Job#110628 Wexner Center<br/>PAGES watch House/Divided<br/>Drake Union - Thurber Theater<br/>OCT-5-2011<br/>Photo by Jay LaPrete<br/>Ohio State University

    Job#110628 Wexner Center
    PAGES watch House/Divided
    Drake Union - Thurber Theater
    OCT-5-2011
    Photo by Jay LaPrete
    Ohio State University

  • Photo by Jay LaPrete<br/>A scene from "HOUSE/DIVIDED"

    Photo by Jay LaPrete
    A scene from "HOUSE/DIVIDED"

  • Job#110628 Wexner Center<br/>PAGES watch House/Divided<br/>Drake Union - Thurber Theater<br/>OCT-5-2011<br/>Photo by Jay LaPrete<br/>Ohio State University

    Job#110628 Wexner Center
    PAGES watch House/Divided
    Drake Union - Thurber Theater
    OCT-5-2011
    Photo by Jay LaPrete
    Ohio State University

  • Job#110628 Wexner Center<br/>PAGES watch House/Divided<br/>Drake Union - Thurber Theater<br/>OCT-5-2011<br/>Photo by Jay LaPrete<br/>Ohio State University
  • Photo by Jay LaPrete<br/>A scene from "HOUSE/DIVIDED"
  • Job#110628 Wexner Center<br/>PAGES watch House/Divided<br/>Drake Union - Thurber Theater<br/>OCT-5-2011<br/>Photo by Jay LaPrete<br/>Ohio State University

Chinese circus performers, a leading Polish symphony orchestra, jazz greats Chick Corea and Gary Burton, and a cutting-edge New York theater company — all this and more is on tap as the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst begins another season.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall, in the kick-off event of the FAC’s 2012-13 season, the experimental theater company The Builders Association makes its first appearance in the Valley with “HOUSE/DIVIDED,” a production that blends elements of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” with a modern look at the country’s ongoing mortgage crisis.

The Builders Association, an Obie award-winning company started in New York City in 1994, uses a mix of traditional theater, video, sound and other media to examine contemporary issues, from culture clashes to economic dislocation to urban alienation.

And in “HOUSE/DIVIDED,” says company artistic director Marianne Weems, the troupe looked for a new way to examine the rash of home foreclosures that have gripped the country in the last several years.

“It’s not news that a lot of people have lost their homes,” Weems said during a recent phone interview. “But it’s such a complex story with multiple levels — from homeowners to local banks, outsourcing and international markets — that we wanted to tell it in a different way. ... My goal is to try and illustrate the ways that people’s lives are shaped by these invisible forces they have no control over.”

“HOUSE/DIVIDED” uses Steinbeck’s famous story as a narrative backbone, as the Joad family travels from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. In the play, some of the main characters from the story retrace that journey using passages from the novel.

Juxtaposed against that are the stories of modern-day migrants, squatters and others who have lost their homes in the miasma of failed banks, recession and high-risk financial deals like credit default swaps that unfolded in the last several years.

The five cast members play multiple roles, including Realtors and executives from international banking and insurance firms. Their performances are augmented by other story-telling devices, such as video images from TV news footage of the financial crash of 2008 and a sound track culled from other real-life events. The production also uses live video, projecting images of some characters onto the multiple screens that are part of the show.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the production is the set: a section from a real foreclosed house in Columbus, Ohio, that The Builders Association crew will reassemble onstage.

“We were really fortunate to be able to make this a part of the performance,” Weems said. “It makes the story that much more real.” The house serves multiple roles, she said, including a home for some of the characters, a symbol of what’s gone wrong with the housing market, and “a character all its own ... We’re staging the story through the lens of the house.”

The company first staged “HOUSE/DIVIDED” last fall at the Wexler Center for the Arts at Ohio State University as part of an artistic residency at the school. The group’s connections to the university led them to a Realtor who dealt with foreclosed homes, including the one that is now part of the set.

Because of the complex integration of story-telling devices and technology used in her company’s productions, Weems says it takes a few years to bring them to the stage. That’s also in part because the shows are “real collaborative efforts,” she said.

“Everybody who’s involved, from video production to sound design to lighting and set construction, contributes ideas. It’s not just me telling everyone else what we’re going to do.”

In its marriage of technological wizardry and traditional theater, The Builders Association is offering an unusual instruction for tonight’s performance. Audience members with smartphones don’t have to turn off the devices before “HOUSE/DIVIDED” begins: Instead, they can download an app before curtain time that will let them receive related information during the show.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Tickets for tonight’s performance of “HOUSE/DIVIDED” at the FAC Concert Hall range from $10 to $35. To purchase, call 545-2511 or visit fac.umass.edu. Tickets may also be purchased at the box office this evening beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Related

Coming up for the 2012-13 season at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Here’s a look at some other upcoming events this fall at the FAC: ∎ Oct. 20, 8 p.m., Concert Hall — Jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton will perform material from their new album, “Hot House,” which offers the longtime duo’s take on songs by a range of composers, from Kurt Weill and Antonio Carlos to Thelonius Monk and … 0

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