Consider this play an “Ode to.” Based on the life of a retired Pitt administrator and set in Manchester, “The House That Carol Built” is homage to the persistence of the unsung sheroes in our midst who rarely receive their much-deserved accolades for overcoming the day-to-day struggle of raising a family while working to maintain a home.
Written by local playwright Frank Hightower, the script is much like the dialogue heard in any house in any of our communities. If you’re looking for something over the top, then go elsewhere. This play, directed by Vernell A. Lilllie centers on the quiet interplay that comes from small victories, surprises and opportunities for reflection. Individually those moments seem small, but the sum total sometimes holds an incredible narrative.
Set in 1999 in a tidy home, the tie that binds this household is a combination of mother love and mother wit. The play opens on the three children, a due-any-second oldest daughter, a precocious teenage daughter and their autistic brother, who is about to graduate from high school. Without parental supervision, the trio bickered back and forth until Carol returns, restoring order.
Subtlety is the key element in the casts’ performance. In Stephanie Aker’s hands, Carol is the considerate next-door neighbor who takes time from her busy schedule to participate in volunteer projects that earned her the badge of community activist. Benjamin Blakely is Lynwood, the big brother who steps in to supplement the absence of Carol’s just-divorced husband with old-school manly guidance to nephew Timothy. Mother-to-be Opal (Ivory Bennett) is still transitioning from being the oldest to a married woman while youngest child Darieth (Sharnece M. Thomas) is just trying not to be lost as she begins to assert her adolescent self.
When Carol’s sister Grace (Terri L. Smith) stops by, we see two generations of sibling interaction and the bond it brings. As autistic son Timothy, Loni Johnson (an understudy who filled in for the first matinee) provided a steady understated-ness for a very credible performance.
Kudos to Herb Newsome and Kenneth M. Ellis for the set and costume designer Renee B. Sorrell.
(“The House that Carol Built” continues through March 31 at the Homewood Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. For tickets and performance times, call 412-624-8498.)