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Karen Bardash

“A Healthy House”
More than solid construction and an updated façade, a healthy house is ultimately a home in which the heart is.

June 2-19, 2022. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Theater for the New City, 155 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10003
Tickets: $18, students & seniors $15; box office 212-254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Reviewed by Karen Bardash June 5, 2022

L-R: Robert Arcaro as the father, Brendan J. Mulhern as the son, Andy Spinosi as the siding salesman.

I doubt there is any audience member who could not relate to so much in Tom Diriwachter’s “A Healthy House.” From the personal perspective, the playwright nailed it, pun intended, although the overall play left me wanting.

The action takes place within the well-worn kitchen/living room of a family home in Staten Island. It is there that we initially meet the father, a 76-year-old, ailing, recently widowed man, his bartender/wannabe screenwriter middle-aged son Tim, and Tom, an affable salesman hawking vinyl siding.

Act I is as fast paced as a good salesperson’s patter. Tom covers all the bases of what a siding job would entail while annoyingly punching at his tablet. The familial banter between father and son is filled with requisite humor. Upon seeing the price estimate, dad becomes unsteady on his feet which leads Tom to offer a deal to make him feel better. Actually, deal is piled upon deal; “new customer first time discount,” “model home program,” “business efficiency model.” No pressure, but if they don’t sign now…. They eventually do. Interspersed with the business transaction is awkwardly placed reminiscence about old times at home when “mom” was alive and about her final days as well.

Actor Robert Arcaro plays the father, an everyman so recognizable whether in one’s own father, friend, or neighbor. His was a multi-faceted performance filled with pathos and humor. The relationship between father and son, played perfectly by Brendan J. Mulhern, was believable from start to finish; the role reversal of who is now the caretaker, the sadness and frustration dealing with an older parent, the super-realistic prodding to drink more, eat better, to which the father responds, “I can’t eat if I’m not hungry… I’ll throw up!” or the divulging by the father of how money that could have been spent on the house in the past was used instead to better his son’s future. Andy Spinosi plays Tom, the young salesman. Initially he seemed youthful for the part but quickly grew into his shoes and was effective in his pitch. With his smile, I’d have bought siding as well. Short and sweet, the play could have been neatly tied up in a bow at this point and been a perfect one-acter. However, it was not.

Act II, scene 1 opens with dad in his recliner, a large remote control model airplane wing on a chair (didn’t we all have a relative build those planes back in the day?) to give him something about which to reminisce. Incessant hammering is heard in the background. The siding job has begun! As father and son share comedic conversation, they await their guest, the project manager of the job (aka personal liaison) who arrives late. He is an overly smiley sycophant whose sole purpose is, supposedly, to make sure that there is complete job satisfaction. Steve Gamble does a fine job portraying this smarmy character! Unfortunately, a good portion of this overly-long scene seems a near-verbatim repeat of dialogue from Act I accompanied by more overuse of the tablet. Whereas some of the lines initially drew laughter, they now become redundant and tiresome. Was the siding blue, or grey, or river stone? I had the same question about my home’s siding, and yes… I also have way too many windows in my house! I found myself distracted by my own home improvements vs. focusing on the play. Wouldn’t you know it, just as the project manager is about to leave, an “issue” about the job arises! I’ll get to the point quicker than the actual scene did; a scam ensues involving soffits (a word repeated at least 15 times), placing the blame on Tom the initial salesman who might suffer professional repercussions, and the only way to rectify the problem would be……

Act II, Scene 2 - The jovial conversation taking place between Tim and the project manager as the two enter the house after examining the rotting soffits is not very credible, but it doesn’t last long. The title of the play, “Healthy House,” comes from a line in this scene; “a healthy house is one which allows a house to breathe.” The insinuation is that, as it stands, this is not a healthy house. Modern vented soffits are what is needed, but of course they were not in the original contract. More pressured sales pitch, more comedic relief with dad, more anger from the son. At a certain point I felt as if I were trapped in a pressured negotiation at a car dealership and needed to extricate myself from an uncomfortable situation. The project manager finally leaves. I won’t divulge if he does so with things in his favor or not. Father and son are left to yet again discuss, in dialogue fraught with emotion, the house, its/their history, and the future of all three. Rather oddly, the show thus concludes.

Will the house ever be complete? Will it become a tear-down like so many others in the neighborhood? Will it ultimately be healthy? Will that even matter? After all, what is a house when the home is where the heart is? [KB]


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