Playwright Eliana Pipes’ multi-layered dark comedy Dream Hou$e presents the cautionary tale of two Latinx sisters who inherit their mother’s historic home in a gentrifying neighborhood. Older sister Patricia, a CPA hungry for upward mobility (taut and talented Elena Estér), has already secured the chance to remodel and sell their legacy through an HGTV-type reality show called “Flip It and List It.” She’s already counting the dollars the sale will produce.
Dream Hou$e, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, through Aug. 7
But little sister, pregnant school teacher Julia (acted with sincerity and warmth by Linda Maria Girón), is ambivalent about selling their multigenerational home. She is nostalgically attached to the old neighborhood, the house, and the apocryphal family stories that go with it. But for all her sentimentality, she had been MIA while Patricia was left to nurse their dying mother through her prolonged final illness.
When shimmery blonde TV personality, the fake-smiling, totally controlled, and controlling Tessa (the excellent Libby Oberlin), enters the scene to begin filming the show, the situation gets complicated. Dream Hou$e plays the cheesy TV show and its host, Tessa, for laughs, although there are shadowy undercurrents beneath.
Through an effective stage device, the sisters can snap their fingers, stop the TV-driven action and privately discuss their concerns about selling the house and their feelings about each other. In these “outtakes,” the sisters confront what home means to them and their perceived metaphorical gain and loss from the sale.
Patricia focuses on her desired upgrade in lifestyle. For her, the house proceeds equal security. But Julia’s security blanket is her emotional attachment to her family home and neighborhood. Actors Elena Estér and Linda Maria Girón skillfully walk the line between the sisters’ realistic, subtle relationship and the comedic aspects of Dream Hou$e.
As the renovation becomes more complicated (as they always seem to on TV), the interpersonal relationship between Patricia and Tessa also gets more complicated. There is a powerful interlude in which Patricia must graphically encounter the importance of money in her life. It’s quite an unforgettable scene.
Gifted playwright Eliana Pipes and first-rate director Karina Gutiérrez have experienced their own neighborhoods’ gentrification. And it’s reflected in the creative writing and authentic staging of Dream Hou$e. They bring clarity to the nuanced issues of how localities change and how those changes affect their residents — for better and for worse.
Shotgun has presented Dream Hou$e with awareness and sensitivity. Its Ashby Stage theater is in South Berkeley’s historically Black Lorin District. Shaken by gentrification and other forces, South Berkeley has seen its Black population shrink by nearly a third over the past decade. In fact, Shotgun’s Ashby Stage was converted from a historically Black church into a theater in the early 2000s.
The evening I saw Dream Hou$e, I dreamed about the two sisters packing up their childhood home. Or was it my own home in the dream? The performance lingered in my subconscious as only inspired theater can.
Dream Hou$e runs one and one-half hours without an intermission at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, through Aug. 7, 2022. Proof of vaccination and masks are required to attend in-person performances. General admission ticket prices are $28 – $40. Tickets for those 25 years and under are $7 with discount code MADTIX. Community tickets for those with financial hardship are $15 with discount code COMMUNITY. Shotgun also offers live-stream performances on July 21 and 28, as well as video on demand (with closed captioning) from Aug. 10-21. There is a special haptic tour and performance for blind and low vision patrons on Sunday, July 24, 2022. Reservations are encouraged. More information can be found at the Shotgun Players website.