Review: Rec Room’s apocalyptic romantic comedy thriller ‘Put Your House in Order’ is a promising show for the spooky season
Upon walking through its doors, Rec Room quickly distinguishes itself from other local theatre spaces in Houston: its cozy lighting, exposed brick walls and dynamic background music lend themselves to an intimate, homely environment before the show even begins. As the audience trickles into the venue for the night’s show, the stage’s intricate set design, furnished with a full-thrust front porch and yard (impressively designed by Stefan Azizi), boldly precedes the riveting journey that is to come.
Chicago-based playwright Ike Holter’s apocalyptic romantic comedy thriller “Put Your House in Order,” playing from October 20 to November 12 at Rec Room, centers around a first date gone disastrously wrong. The play starts with the all-too-familiar first date ritual between the nervous Rolan (played by Gerardo Velasquez) and spunky Caroline (played by Sophia Marcelle) that consists of cringe-inducing hesitant touches, nervous shuffling, fumbling of juice boxes and awkward rambling. However, despite the characters’ first date nerves and contrasting personalities, Velasquez and Marcelle’s intimate and sparkling chemistry within the first scene sets the stage for the exceptional vulnerability and rawness that is to come in their performances.
Notably, the beauty of the pair’s interactions lies in the moments that contribute little to the state of the apocalypse at hand. The beauty lies within the discussion of childhood memories, disagreements, and lingering touching, which are necessary to maintain sanity in the world that crumbles around them. Like the set pieces relentlessly falling off the wall that night (which Velasquez so masterfully handled), the characters are persistent in maintaining some version of normalcy and immersing themselves in the temporary relief that only love can provide. In addition to the pair’s trajectory, Sally Burtenshaw shines as Josephine Madison from the very moment she enters the play. Burtenshaw’s monologues are particularly captivating, and her friendly neighborly character turned walking dead is a performance that creates goosebumps until you get home.
Remarkably, Matt Hune’s directing expertly creates a truly immersive, edge-of-your-seat experience for his audience. Hune and lighting designer Nicholas Lam exquisitely build the rising tension of the apocalypse, inserting constant flickering lights, car alarms, sounds of disputes, helicopter whirring and gunshots in the background of each interaction. Between each scene’s transition, the audience’s adrenaline spikes as they are left in the dark listening to music that accelerates and intensifies in tempo.
The play’s horror, however, does not solely rely on Ike Holter’s propelling and unpredictable plotline, the cast’s stunning performances or Matt Hune’s masterful directing. The horror additionally relies on our own collective past — the ambiance that Hune creates strikingly resembles the panic, horrors and trauma that the COVID-19 pandemic incited not so long ago. However, in spite of the darkness of the play, the audience is constantly reminded of the beauty of human connection within even the littlest of moments and is guaranteed to leave the theater with some form of hope.
Rec Room’s “Put Your House in Order” is a promising show for the spooky season with its stellar design, writing, cast and directing. Make sure to check this show out at Rec Room if you can. Warning: you might never be able to hear Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” the same again. I definitely won’t.
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