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House/Divided’ unites old story with a new twist

“House/Divided,” a new play produced by the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Builders Association, uses the theme of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” to examine and display the current mortgage crisis in America.

The play will premiere Thursday and play through Saturday in the Thurber Theatre at the Drake Center.

In Steinbeck’s novel, farmers in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression of the 1930s were losing their land to the banks. The Builders Association juxtaposed this idea with an original script to adapt it to the mortgage crisis of today, said Chuck Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center.

The Builders Association is “a New York-based performance and media company that creates original productions based on stories drawn from contemporary life,” according to its website.

Philip Garrett, an actor in the play and a graduate student in theatre, agrees that “The Grapes of Wrath” and “House / Divided” parallel one another.

“You can look at the story of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and replace the word ‘farm’ with the word ‘mortgage’ or ‘house’ for what is happening now and the story is very much the same,” Garrett said.

The theme of the mortgage crisis was particularly relevant for some involved with the play. One student in the Fisher College of Business shared her story about almost losing her home because of missed mortgage payments, which was integrated into the show, Helm said.

“I think it was a big shock to realize that this kind of thing can happen to one of their fellow classmates … and that this cuts across all sectors of society,” Helm said.

The title of the play refers to a fractured feeling of self-worth when affected by a financial crisis . The title also refers to a set of stairs from a house which burned down, serving as physical reminder of foreclosure on set, Helm said.

The play will involve multimedia aspects including a smartphone application to receive extra information during the performance.

“The Builders Association have always been known for pushing the role of weaving technology into their stage productions,” Helm said.

Some think all of the multimedia on stage might be distracting.

“A lot of students at OSU might be working on their laptop, and watching TV, and texting somebody on their phone all at the same time, so watching the Builders’ show will feel right at home,” Helm said.

Bianca Briggs, a third-year in journalism and philosophy, understands the use of the multimedia.

“In a way it could be distracting, but it seems like because it is a play that is using multimedia, it’s more to get the point across about … comparing ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ to what’s going on right now in today’s society,” Briggs said.

“House/Divided” was made possible at Ohio State through one of six grants offered by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program, as well as various other sponsors, Helm said.

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