“Dream Hou$e” actors, from left, Elena Estér, Libby Oberlin, and Linda Maria Girón. Credit: Robbie Sweeny.

This story is brought to you by Shotgun Players.

Shotgun Players’ “Dream Hou$e” starting at Ashby Stage July 16, centers on two Latinx sisters who land the opportunity to remodel and sell their historic family home on a popular reality TV show. But the dream morphs into a nightmare in this dark comedy, featuring Linda Maria Girón and Elena Estér as sisters. Playwright Eliana Pipes was inspired by her own upbringing to explore the themes of family legacy and what a connection to the land means.

 “I was born and raised in a changing Los Angeles, in a little pocket of the city that was really gentrifying as I grew up,” Pipes said. “When I was 13, we sold our house, and my family moved. Our house had tripled in value, and that move really changed my family’s financial future for the better. But, it also meant that my family was participating in that process of gentrification. That move constituted a cultural loss.” 

“Dream Hou$e” director Karina Gutiérrez, an assistant professor of History, Historiography, and Performance Studies at Santa Clara University, has also lived in gentrifying neighborhoods. A nine-year resident of Oakland, she has witnessed firsthand the cultural upheaval in Fruitvale and San Francisco’s Mission District.

Director Karina Gutiérrez. Credit: Robbie Sweeny

“Aside from gentrification, there’s this idea of upward mobility. What does that look like? For second- and third-generation Latinx community folk in particular, there’s this concept of selling out, to be a ‘vendido,’ ” Gutiérrez said. “It brings up the question of what you give up, the price that it takes to establish roots in a place: What took five generations to build, can be sold in one generation. There’s always an opportunity cost there.” 

Indeed, the theater itself is located in a neighborhood that continues to experience the upheaval of gentrification — the Ashby Stage is located in the Lorin District of Berkeley and was converted from a historically Black church into a theater in the early 2000s.

Berkeley Real Estate Broker Deborah Matthews explains, “Black Americans settled in the Bay Area during the Great Migration after World War II. This corridor, running from Richmond through Berkeley and Oakland, has historically been the center of Black life in the Bay Area. Berkeley’s housing market had a ‘redlined’ area west of Grove Street, now ironically Martin Luther King Jr. Way. In Asian and Black neighborhoods of South and West Berkeley, waves of gentrification and displacement have taken place since the 1970s.” 

Around the Bay Area, 31% of low-income households are in gentrifying areas, according to Bay Area Equity Atlas, a data firm. The housing and displacement crisis has hit low-income communities of color the hardest, but has had a ripple effect throughout the region. So “Dream Hou$e” resonates in the Bay Area, with its strong economy but skyrocketing inequality. However, the play actually debuted, earlier this year as a co-production with the Alliance Theater located in Atlanta, Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn. and Baltimore Center Stage.

Pipes, a queer Puerto Rican playwright, filmmaker, and actor, was recently awarded the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is currently producing the animated short film “¡Nails!”

Elena Estér wields a sledgehammer in the dark comedy about home renovation. At right, Linda Maria Girón. Credit: Robbie Sweeny

Pipes devised the premise of “Dream Hou$e” in which the sisters are selling their house on a reality show — for the entertainment of others — in response to her feelings around commodifying her own life experiences for white audiences. 

“Because the majority of subscribing theater audiences are white, as an artist of color, I sometimes felt as though I was being asked to sell my cultural pain for money. I wanted that money, I wanted the recognition and the status. I wanted to be in those spaces. And I was grappling with gaze: Who’s watching who and who’s buying what and for what price? Those factors together really pushed the play forward.”

As a way to mitigate the homogeneity of theater audiences in the Bay Area, Shotgun Players have worked to increase access for underrepresented groups. A new Neighborhood Services Committee has reached out to residents of the Lorin District and South Berkeley. The organization also created two new ticket types. For those folks experiencing financial hardship, the $15 Community Ticket is available using discount code COMMUNITY. And for folks aged 25 and under, the nonprofit offers $7 M.A.D. Tickets using discount code MADTIX.

“Dream Hou$e” will be presented live and in-person on the Ashby Stage beginning July 16. Shotgun players is  also offering live-stream performances on July 21 and 28, as well as video-on-demand August 10-21. They’re working with Berkeley Community Media to provide a high-definition, cinema-quality experience for those who prefer to enjoy “Dream Hou$e” and support the Shotgun Players from the comfort of their own homes. Also, a video-on-demand with closed captioning will be available August 10-21.

This story was written and paid for by Shotgun Players. Shotgun Players is a company of artists determined to create bold, relevant, affordable theatre that inspires and challenges audience and artist alike to re-examine our lives, our community, and the ever-changing world around us.