Arts preview: HOUSE/DIVIDED at the Wex

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From the October 6, 2011 edition

“The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it,” wrote John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

His words spoke for the sharecroppers driven from their farms by banks in the 1930s, but they also resonate with the millions who’ve lost their homes to foreclosure in the current mortgage crisis.

Enter New York experimental theater company and Wexner Center residency recipient The Builders Association. For the new production “HOUSE/DIVIDED,” making its world premiere at the Wex this weekend, the Builders employ Steinbeck’s text and recent stories from a central Columbus neighborhood to link the experiences of present and past.

“What I wanted to do is look at the idea of home, a house, what that means at different points in the history of American real estate,” explained Marianne Weems, artistic director of The Builders Association.

The book has already inspired a classic film, a traditional stage adaptation and a concept album by Bruce Springsteen. Weems was drawn to it for its prescient view of the climate for modern homeowners.

“It’s so full of the kind of stories families are going through today, but also the signs of this kind of crisis,” she said.

The company intercuts Steinbeck’s tale with a mix of digital media, featuring recorded interviews that cover the histories of foreclosed houses and the perspectives of those who pass through them. (There’s also a smartphone app to augment the viewing experience.)

Subjects were found through collaboration with several schools at the university and some key players in the Weinland Park redevelopment project, including Elan Daniel from Wagenbrenner Development Company. He also invited stage designers to take whatever building materials they could use from a condemned property at 1463 N. 4th Street.

The items give the production’s subject a physical presence. They’re repurposed to become rolling set pieces in what Weems described as “a dance that goes on between architecture, movement, video and sound.”

“This [collaboration] might have happened in New York, but in Columbus, everyone was so helpful,” she added. “They facilitated in a way that was really meaningful for us.”

Credit: dbox photo