Cleveland Heights playwright Sarah Morton is a tough cookie. She writes with great delicacy and perspicacity, and there's usually not an ounce of vein-clogging schmaltz in her output. But, when given the assignment by Dobama Theatre to write about Cleveland's foreclosure crisis, she uses none of the diversionary tactics that have helpfully served authors who have historically undertaken similar tasks.p>Even Hamlet has moments of levity, and Samuel Beckett tempers the existential angst of Waiting for Godot with vaudevillian buffoonery. There's nary a Greek tragedy without a healing dose of catharsis. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Federal Theatre Project gave audiences something to cheer in works of nourishing moral outrage where the impassioned proletariat bellowed "Strike!" at capitalist fat cats.
In contrast, Morton in Dream/Home so sticks to her focus of a deteriorating neighborhood that audiences might be led to believe they have just witnessed a documentary about one of Stalin's gulags. If it weren't such a well-wrought production — perhaps if it had some of the diverting faux pas of inept theatre — it would be less painful. Or if it weren't happening to our friends and reported every day on the evening news, it wouldn't be so hard to digest onstage. Its creator's mantra is frankness, honesty and sincerity, without a single comforting cliché. Undoubtedly, a decade from now this is the kind of play we'll look to for historical clarification.
The playwright has dexterously tied together a series of nine monologues to fashion a macramé coffin in which to bury Cleveland. In an excruciating 80 minutes, Morton intelligently chronicles how people can lose control of their security, lives and destinies. Covering a wide array of perspectives, we have a weak banker, an oily loan officer, a dispossessed widow and a high-school girl pathetically trying to cling to her job at Cinnabon. Even though the monologues capture exquisitely the nuances in how people talk, the lack of interaction quickly becomes tiresome. While superb at showing the small failings that undermine a society, the cumulative effect is more like role-playing to fuel after-show discussion groups.
The most striking and lingering aspect of the evening is Todd Krispinsky's brilliant stage design. A series of doors seemingly mid-explosion, the set not only validates, but makes the production's most telling statement. Of the more-than-able nine-member cast, veteran Cathy Albers is the only performer not intimidated by the "seriousness" of the material, using a series of Actors Studio tics and rants worthy of Geraldine Page to juice up the material. As the loan officer, Fabio Polanco can do slimy with the best of them. Given the most human embodiment of this ongoing tragedy, Alexis Generette Ford's high-school student fights for her job with the earnest belief of a law student campaigning for a plum position with a big law firm. Sonya Robbins directs with an uninspired, routine confidence that keeps the evening afloat without illuminating its substance.
My admiration for Sarah Morton's talent remains unshaken, but she seems to be still searching for the specific expression that would fully realize its potential.