Flat Rock Playhouse is known for being the state theatre of North Carolina, for high quality production values, talented equity actors and serving the regional population with a steady and varied theatrical menu year after year. Their current production, Real Estate, fills out the romantic/comedic portion of their season. The American premiere of the show provides its audience with a standard situational comedy that occasionally touches on the dramatic. Real Estate has been described by separate advertisements as either a “romantic comedy” or a “light drama,” and both descriptions suffice. The comedy is firmly rooted in the largely superficial style of the romantic comedy, and anything dramatic about this show can only be called light, or perhaps a better description would be flimsy. The play features some very talented actors and an unfortunately lackluster script.
Joel Hopper, played by Scott Treadway, is a blocked writer who has been trying to sell his house for the last year. His father, recently relocated to a nursing home, built the house by hand years ago for Joel’s mother, and the home is cluttered, charming and run down in the typical older-house way. It comes to light that Joel’s father has not paid property taxes for quite some time, and unless the house sells in the next week it will be repossessed by the town. Leslie Marie Collins plays Emma Bard, Joel’s new real estate agent, desperate to make a sale and prove her worth as an agent. She develops an interest in renovating Joel while she prepares the house to be shown, insisting that Joel “doesn’t show well” in his writerly garb of dirty pajama pants and unwashed hair. Joel confides in her that he was left by his wife a year earlier, and soon his estranged wife Estelle and her goofy new-age body-product guru boyfriend Ted appear on the scene, played respectively by Neela Munoz and Bill Munoz. The ramifications of these character outlines and the generic plot situations are fairly obvious, as is typical of the genre. That being said, there is a reason this genre is popular; a great deal of people like their entertainment light, fluffy and easily digestible. Frequent, booming laughter was prevalent in the house.
However, despite being largely typical of the genre, this show somehow seems a bit more hollow than most. Many of the later scene transitions fall flat, as the wind simply seems to peter out of them. A few logical incongruities trouble the production (despite being set in a small rural town, at one point the real estate agent apologizes for being late, saying traffic was terrible and she couldn’t find a cab). The audience never really gets a sense of why Joel misses his estranged wife, especially considering she blatantly cheated on him, and there are virtually no details about her personality or life provided to round out her role in the show. Such a lack in character development makes it difficult to truly connect with the characters in the show.
Additionally, portions of the show that could have provided more comedy were never really pushed to their limits, as was the case with the character of Ted. Bill Munoz did not have the opportunity to play his character to its hilt, as a possible result of being either under-directed or under-written, and his performance lacks the over-the- top commitment to stereotype that generally results in hilarity. Neela Munoz, on the other hand, has the unfortunate task of bearing the bulk of the show’s drama on her shoulders. Hers is an overly intense portrayal of the confused woman, punctuating lines such as “I should have just told you how I felt, instead of hoping you’d notice!” with large arm gestures and a breathless vocal affectation. These are experienced, talented actors dealing with material that does not allow them to display their considerable abilities to their fullest.
Flat Rock’s set design is flawless, and the living room depicted onstage is perfectly dressed with just the right amount of clutter, faded dirty paint and architectural layout appropriate to the house at the center of the show’s action. The microphones all the actors wear enable each audience member to hear every nuance of the dialogue, (though those sensitive to high pitched sounds may be irritated by a consistent tonal whine). Scott Treadway is an immensely talented actor renowned throughout the area, and his turn in Stones in His Pockets at N.C. Stage years ago is the stuff of legends. He is woefully underutilized in this show, and does the best he can with the material. Yet one can’t help feeling that he’s trying to squeeze blood from a rock. Leslie Marie Collard’s Emma is appropriately flustered and adeptly physically comedic.
Real Estate has excellent actors cavorting on a wonderful set working with a script that simply does not make for a satisfying night of light entertainment. The actors make the most of the material, yet at the end of the production one can’t help but feel a bit unsatisfied by the lack of character depth and adventurousness in the script, even within the confines of the romantic comedy genre. Flat Rock has a vast array of choices when it comes to light comedy, and could have made a much more fulfilling choice for their current season.
Real Estate runs at Flat Rock Playhouse Wednesdays through Sundays, through Sept. 6. Written by Allana Harkin and directed by Brendan Powers. Tickets are $30.