Make yourself at home with Gammage's 'Open House,' a commentary on Phoenix's development

Rarely does a national play come to Phoenix and include references to Mill Avenue, the Metro light rail, Sky Harbor, Carly's on Roosevelt Row and the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

This weekend ASU Gammage Residency Artist Aaron Landsman will present "Open House," a play set inside a Phoenix home that takes a local spin on examining the definition of cities, communities and personal autonomy.

Landsman said he was asked to include the play in the 2015-16 Gammage Beyond season because its theme of "turbo-gentrification" rings particularly true in Phoenix.

"It was appealing to Gammage," he said. "They talked about how some of the forces that were at play in New York in 2008 are starting to be a part of central Phoenix. (Places) like Roosevelt Row are getting expensive quickly, and there's a lot of development going on."

The performance analyzes those issues and more by mirroring an actual open house. Audience members are invited into the host home, encouraged to look around and asked to fill out a short questionnaire about their financial situation and employment details.

A real estate broker named Three (Marcelino Quiñonez) then introduces himself and opens the play with a question: "What do you think makes a city?"

After a short discussion with the audience, he introduces a young couple, Rick (Daniel Bird Tobin) and Jane (Marcella Grassa), who are the central characters of what Landsman dubs a "dystopian rom-com."

They meet, fall in love and move in together, but things begin to fall apart when a mysterious natural disaster sweeps through Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Three facilitates the show between the couple and the audience, while asking audience members to move back to the broken city in an increasingly pleading sales pitch.

Gammage Residency Artist Aaron Landsman's new play OPEN HOUSE opens TOMORROW night! OPEN HOUSE is a small play about the...

Posted by ASU Gammage on Thursday, March 24, 2016

Landsman was commissioned to create the play in 2006 by The Foundry Theatre in New York City. They developed the play for two years and then performed it in 24 apartments across all five NYC boroughs.

The play was a success, with the New York Times review lauding Landsman's "dry, subversive wit."

He has since held the performance in cities across the country, altering the script to fit the changing environment — hence the multitude of references sprinkled in that Phoenix audiences will immediately understand.

Landsman said the idea of a housing collapse was unthinkable to audiences in 2008 just before the market crashed, so the play was more predictive than reactive. He added that it's not based on a particular event.

"In the play there's not a specific calamity," he said. "We didn't want to make it the 9/11 play, or if we did it now, the Hurricane Sandy play. (Instead) it's a slow conflagration. For us, at the time, there was this sense of impending doom."

Local actor Quiñonez plays the broker in the Phoenix adaptation and said that today the play has even more thematic relevance to the audience. 

"I'm reminded how important one's home is," he said. "The question of community is front and center, as well as the impact of capitalism and its relationship to the free market."

Quiñonez graduated from ASU with his bachelors in 2007 and his masters in 2014, both in theater. He said he met Landsman through ASU's theater program and appreciates the playwright's unique ability to engage the audience through his work.

"He's a visionary," Quiñonez said. "His ability to create theater that engages the audience is revolutionary and dynamic."

Part of bringing the play to a new city means engaging with fresh audiences, and for the Phoenix production that meant finding a home location that was centralized within the city but offered its own charm.

Homeowner Justin Katz said he offered several months ago to let Landsman use his house on Vernon Avenue when he heard the playwright was looking for a place in the neighborhood. He said he went into the process without an idea of what to expect, but he's enjoyed watching rehearsals of the play and has high hopes for the end result.

"I'm really excited for this weekend," he said. "From the small parts I've seen so far, it's a nice mix of comedy and deliberately breaking the fourth wall. It's exceeding my expectations."

Performances of "Open House" are on Friday and Saturday night in downtown Phoenix. Tickets range between $10 to $20 and can be purchased at the Gammage box office or by phone.

Related links:

ASU celebrates 50 years of cultural excellence, community involvement at Gammage Auditorium

An abridged history of Mill Avenue: The grandiose and worldly ASU Gammage


Reach the reporter at skylar.mason@asu.edu or follow @skylarmason42 on Twitter.

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