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reed magazine logoWinter 2009

Fall of the House

Troupe turns housemate drama into comic relief

Gabby and Addison

Landlady Gabby (Yolanda Suarez) scolds Addison (Kevin Crooks ’10) for provoking her other tenants in Fall of the House.

Someone really needs to clean this place up. A three-section rattan couch lies overturned and scattered about the entry room. Watercolor and oil paintings of cozy Victorian houses hang at precarious tilts. Week-old newspapers are strewn about the floor, covering a patchwork of mismatched rugs.

The housemates soon materialize and begin tidying as indie rock plays on the stereo. When they can’t find anything to clean, they clap with the beat or exchange high-fives. Suddenly, the music stops and two-by-two, they spin around to recount their various relationship misadventures. The perennially lusty pair, Olivia and Clarence, wonders whether that one-night stand was such a good idea. Temperamental Sam and sarcastic Brian argue over Julie’s influence. Steven considers schooling naïve Addison in the art of romance. Slackers Maja and Betsy endure another lecture on the virtues of industry from Gabby—the trust-fund landlady.

Housemate drama? Yes. But this one is actually on stage at Theater! Theatre! in Southeast Portland, where a troupe named Action Adventure performs Fall of the House, an improvised serial comedy that chronicles the hidden lives of college-educated “young creatives.”

House is the brainchild of artistic director Tamara Carroll ’03, who originally dreamed up the concept based on off-campus dramas involving real-life mismatched roommates. Working together with director Miranda King ’05 and cast members Evan Ward ’06, Devon Granmo ’06, and Kevin Crooks ’10, Carroll and the troupe developed this live soap opera about twenty-something bohemians who are creating their own family away from family.

“More than being a Reed show, it’s a Portland show because so many people are moving here to be in a young, hip city,” King says. “The idea of creating families out of non-traditional social structures is also characteristic of Portland, not just Reed.”

Audiences love it. The show regularly sells out, and local critics have taken notice. “A cult classic in the making,” says the Portland Mercury. The troupe “is on to something big,” according to The Oregonian.

One of the things that makes House so effective is the way it transgresses the boundaries between real life and the stage. Actors typically play exaggerated versions of themselves in interactions that often cut uncomfortably close to home. In Crooks’ view, the show has become less about the traditional one-upmanship of improv theater and more about genuinely surprising other cast members along with the audience. “The language comes about pretty organically because we talk backstage more about our characters and plotlines than quirks of speech,” he says.

Work on an episode often starts when the group meets in a neighborhood bar to brainstorm. The actors begin rehearsals with other characters as their only prompts. Since House plotlines omit motivation, it’s the actors’ job to bring stories to life through experimentation.

“Even [in traditional theatre] when you have a script, you figure out what your character’s objective is and figure out a few ways to do it,” Granmo says. “But House is so dependent on being in the moment that you can’t count on what happened in rehearsal at all.”

In a recent performance, Ward’s character Clarence gets the audience in the mood by commenting, “News about the ‘beer situation’ is never good news.” Fortunately, he restores life to the party with another case of Blue Heron Pale Ale, wins the karaoke contest, and attracts a “buddy” for the night with a sly mention of his cherished 1986 bootleg of Duran Duran playing Helsinki.

The most powerful moments of the mini-series occur when the audience can’t be sure if the actor, as well as the character, is flustered by another character’s retort. In these instances, actors rely on instinct—far riskier, of course, than reaching for a rehearsed line. But when it works, it really brings down the house.

For more information about Fall of the House, visit www.actionadventure.org.

—Raymond Rendleman ’06

Cast of Characters

Reedies in Fall of the House

  • Artistic Director Tamara Carroll ’03: theatre thesis, A practical joker always takes a gambol: Orton has his way with farce.
  • Director Miranda King ’05: thesis show, Gorey Stories
  • Sound Designer Devon Granmo ’06: thesis show, Dirty Water
  • Cast as “Clarence,” Evan Ward ’06: mathematics thesis, Prime Filtrations of Monomial Rings
  • Cast as “Addison,” Kevin Crooks ’10
reed magazine logoWinter 2009