Uneven play defines itself as a romantic comedy/apocalyptic thriller.
My mom used to try to get me to clean up my room (and later, my apartment) with this logic: As soon as you let it get messy, company will ring your doorbell.
Maybe that’s what Ike Holter is trying to tell us in “Put Your House in Order,” a new three-hander billed as a combination romantic comedy/apocalyptic thriller.
The house in question belongs to motormouth Caroline’s parents. It’s a lovely two-story place in the Chicago suburb of Evanston (designed by Arnel Sancianco) with a big yard, lots of plants and grass, where we find Caroline (Shannon Matesky) and newish boyfriend Rolan (Behzad Dabu) hanging out.
The company? Well, that’s part of the mystery. The only visitor we see is teacher and neighbor Josephine (Linda Libby), who pops in now and then to give Caroline and Rolan updates on the “weird” stuff going on outside.
We can hear it: sirens, sounds of a demonstration or maybe just plain violence, lights going on and off, ominous noises, sounds of broken glass. Maybe they’ll be safe inside the fenced property.
Word comes that businesses have been ordered to close. It’s a good thing Caroline bought all those bottles of water and juice boxes just before the weirdness started.
I’ll confess right now to having next to no interest in horror stories, so what’s not so clear to me is why the audience should care about what’s going on. These one-dimensional characters have not delineated any goals or even hopes for the future (though Rolan does seem concerned about his young son, leaving me to wonder why he’s here with Caroline). But I don’t know what Caroline wants, or what’s up with Josephine. What we see onstage is fear (something Americans are very familiar with in 2019) and the apparent paralysis that has set it because of it.
But that’s not enough to keep an audience (at least, not this one) engaged.
It’s not lack of acting talent. Matesky’s Caroline (sporting a Rosa Parks t-shirt) seems bright enough, though she succumbs to the fear quickly. Dabu’s Rolan is a nice romantic figure who wants help getting a message to his son. Libby’s Josephine is the most mysterious, but she seems unable to articulate what she sees when she goes outside.
Give Holter credit for trying something different. This is definitely that, but it needs more plot or more interesting characters to make it sing.
“Put Your House in Order” plays through June 30, 2019 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Forum, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive on the UCSD campus.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.
Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or lajollaplayhouse.org