Full A-Team Review: Muses IV Memories of a House

The structure of a house: walls, foundation, construction and renovation can in and of itself tell a story. However, walking into a home dives deeper into the history of not only a house, but the family within it’s walls. A family can have a similar structure to that of a house; with it’s own distinct structure of foundation, and it’s fair share of weathering of time or imperfections. “Muses IV: Memories of a House” is the collaborative work of eight playwrights and five directors who construct 10 scenes in and around the Austin home of real homeowners Candyce Ossefort-Russel and Rod Russel (who are of no relation to the family depicted in the performance).

Monday, August 30, 2010. The feel when driving up to the set is almost like attending a house party. Despite the lack of music, audience members loiter around the front steps and porch (many with small cups of wine) hanging out. Concessions and box office are located snugly near the front door of the house on the porch, visible only after approaching closely, which doesn’t break the house party feel. After picking up the program from box office, everyone has time to settle or talk amongst each other. As a lone attendee this time around, I took it upon myself to dive into the program and its extensive reading material. With the program I was intrigued by the real history of the house and could learn more about the history of  Muses’ annual tradition. There wasn’t much time for getting into the details on production crew and actors (also extensive) before an announcement was made to begin preparations for the show.

The large audience is divided (this night would be 3 groups) among guides, who lead from scene to scene and answer any questions aside from introductions and closing remarks. I was personally quite thankful for the presence of the guide, because I would have been overwhelmed and distracted by where to venture. Walking from scene to scene was also a fun change from having the performance come to you while you remain planted in a seat for the length of a show. My audience group travelled through the scenes in the order that is presented in the program, so my recount might vary slightly with the two alternate groups. Immediately, you feel immersed in the action, sans a large break in the fourth wall. Perhaps the presence of audience vs. stage was produced by our positioning, as we were lined up on one side while the action took place ahead. Moving deeper into the play, however, the lines begin to blur as designated seating areas were less uniform and audience members were more intricately placed in and around the action. So interwoven that audience members must be careful not to place a foot in the path of oncoming actors! It was very exciting and fun to almost feel like we were unofficially a part of the play ourselves. We were sometimes spoken to by characters who were alone, joined an actor on his couch as he speaks with his daughter or seated at a table with a girl holding a private conversation with God. The audience transforms from an outside presence, to almost props or additional haunts within the scene. Thus, while the scenes become so much more intimate for the audience and actors, the intimate feel spreads among audience members as the plays’ effects serve as a shared experience of being in this home together.

While every scene was expertly crafted, the playwriting that I felt drawn to the most were “Bomb Shelter” and “Weak Foundation” both written by Trey Deason. These were nice because aside from the visually engaging scene, it provided thought provoking elements that were more reflective than other scenes. The language and action of these two scenes also paralleled the bonds of people and their relationships to the physical structure of a house nicely. Particularly in “Weak Foundation”, the character Shawn (Jeff Gibbs) is portrayed speaking out toward a Realtor who will help him sell the house. He speaks about the house’s nicely renovated to look which should hide the true problem of the structure’s weak foundation. In his speech he talks about history and that despite growing up in Austin, he has never seen the capital, but he’s pretty sure that a tourist or outsider are much quicker to visit the landmark. His comments on history and faults lacking consequence based on nice external appearances brings to the forefront the family portrayed by “Muses IV” and their inability to examine their own history and consequently their faults.

The dynamics portrayed in these pieces are not unrecognizable, and perhaps with the process of reliving these family snapshots we are afforded the opportunity to examine ourselves in relation to these scenes… or not. The end seems to come almost suddenly, but the house becomes alive again with the same house party feel that opened the evening. I look forward to next year’s “Muses V” to see which new stories it will tell. There is also opportunity for anyone with a house in Austin to lend their abode for next set, so I also cannot wait to see where the next performance will be!  (4.5 out of 5 stars)

–Angela Garner

A-Team and Greater Austin Creative Alliance Member

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The Austin Creative Alliance is a nonprofit performing arts service organization working to cultivate an environment where the performing arts can grow and flourish. We serve over 130 arts organizations with marketing, ticketing, audience development services; AEA paymaster, information & referral services — plus access to affordable health, liability, and event insurance. We also provide online professional development seminars, fiscal sponsorship services for emerging arts groups, host annual unified general auditions, annual theatre industry awards, and consistently advocate for the many benefits the arts bring to our quality of life.

1 thought on “Full A-Team Review: Muses IV Memories of a House

  1. a historic home in South Austin loaded with secret passageways, upstairs kitchens, outdoor enclaves, a real study overflowing with books, funky-to-chic collectibles and 17 talented actors, performing in several rooms at once to tell the story of the house—or more importantly, its “occupants,” as their relationships are challenged and shift over time. you won’t find out the performance location until you buy the tickets (which you should, right away), and the home’s true-life occupants, who are justifiably proud of its restoration and vintage chic, will welcome you. while awaiting the start of the plays, you’ll mingle on the covered front porch (complete with a swing) with some of the actors, directors, writers and patrons—without any idea which is which. it’s a mystery that unfolds throughout the evening as soon as you walk up the porch steps.

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