House / Divided (2011-2014)

Based on The Grapes of Wrath

“The Bank — or the Company — needs — wants — insists — must have — as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling…

But the monster is sick. Something’s happened to the
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Using John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath as a narrative backbone, HOUSE / DIVIDED (formerly ROAD TRIP) tells contemporary tales of foreclosure, following economic refugees and migrants from two different American eras. Steinbeck’s Joad family moves along the great Dust Bowl migration, while a contemporary house rooted to its site — yet connected to a web of global finance and investment – becomes a container for stories from the current, evolving crisis. HOUSE / DIVIDED explores the changing meaning of home, homelessness, and place both in the present moment and in the broader context of the American mythos.

On stage, HOUSE / DIVIDED is built around an archetypal house that is sometimes inhabited, sometimes abandoned, sometimes transformed or broken, and sometimes only imagined or remembered by those who have moved on or lost their homes. In HOUSE / DIVIDED this house is more than an image or representation; it is an artifact of the current upheaval — the real thing: a foreclosed house from Columbus, Ohio dismantled and carried in pieces to the stage to tell its story (an outgrowth of the Builders’ series of creative residencies at Wexner Center for the Arts and the Ohio State University). The house is a tragic character, inhabited and manipulated by the people and institutions that have surrounded it — from an owner and renter to a local realtor all the way to the trading desk at Goldman Sachs and the Swiss headquarters of reinsurance giant AIG.

Outside the house, on the road, the Joads carry on their eternal journey. Steinbeck’s beautiful prose, both stark and lyrical, is used in voiceover as a descriptive soundtrack as we step in and out of their story, illustrating their trials and struggles as they make their way slowly west. They build their world onstage, dreaming of ‘home’, while the production ghosts forward to our complex and contemporary digital environment.

As with all of the work of The Builders Association, HOUSE / DIVIDED draws from ‘real life’ events as source material; the myriad, bizarre, humorous and lamentable stories of the current crisis. HOUSE / DIVIDED traces a line from kerosene lamps and makeshift roadside tents to the digital glow of screens under overpasses and in parked cars at Wal-Mart parking lots. HOUSE / DIVIDED finds us at our current crossroads: with a radically altering sense of home and stability, community and ownership and a retooling of the American Dream.

Under the direction of founding artistic director Marianne Weems, long-time Builders Association collaborators Jennifer Tipton (lighting), John Cleater (scenic) Dan Dobson (sonic) reunite their design forces in the Builders’ signature style of epic, technological beauty. James Gibbs and Moe Angelos create and adapt the text and Austin Switser (video) washes it all in an elegant palette of 21st century movement.

The Grapes of Wrath ©1939 by John Steinbeck. Copyright renewed, John Steinbeck 1967