Christopher Evan Welch and Jeremy Strong
in Our House
(© Joan Marcus)
Christopher Evan Welch and Jeremy Strong
in Our House
(© Joan Marcus)
The inanities of reality TV present such a broad target that Theresa Rebeck doesn't really need to haul out the howitzer for her new play Our House, now receiving its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons under Michael Mayer's direction. And in fact she doesn't. Yet, in critiquing a medium prone to superficiality, her script ultimately falls prey to the same pitfall.

Two parallel worlds are represented by 2009 Tony Award winner Derek McLane's clever, compact set. Foremost is a forbiddingly minimalist office where network honcho Wes (Christopher Evan Welch, here a master of smarmy conceit) rails about the onus of having to produce unprofitable news programming. He interrupts his rant just long enough to engage in a torrid affair with anchorwoman Jennifer Ramirez (Morena Baccarin), who is not only a knockout, but is able to segue seamlessly from Beirut car bombings to "fall fashion trends in Europe." So Wes proposes to extend her "brand" and also make her the host of a Real World-type reality show in which strangers are thrown together to share living quarters.

The show's second locale -- a lurking popout -- is the scuzzy commune-of-convenience where four twentysomethings engage in the much messier real-life equivalent of living together. Roommate from hell Merv (Jeremy Strong) is an unrepentant yogurt-pilferer and, far worse, the kind of TV addict who likes to "interact" by loudly critiquing the very junk he's mainlining. The overwhelming blaring of the television rankles Alice (Katie Kreisler), who starts out musing about a part of Vermont that's cut off from TV -- and then ends up furiously plotting Merv's ouster.

How the two worlds merge is best left unsaid in the interest of surprise. However, the insertion of an intermission hints at the rift between acts one and two, and the challenge that Rebeck has set herself in trying to bridge farce and tragedy isn't fully met. As the play continues, Wes continues on his trajectory of heedless megalomania, with news division head Stu (a wry, Dick Cavett-like Stephen Kunken) attempting in vain to make him hear reason. Their arguments over the sacred -- and indeed, FCC-mandated -- duty of keeping the public informed are the juiciest and funniest segment of the play.

However, despite the uniformly superb work of the cast (which includes Mandy Siegried and Haynes Thigpen), the characters can feel cartoonish. And the crisis that comes to take center stage feels sensationalist -- which, of course, is how Wes chooses to play it. The audience, however, may succumb to a sense of Law & Order déjà vu (and vu and vu), ultimately undercutting the drama's impact.