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Review: Corning Works' 'At Once There Was aHouse' gives audience plenty to think about

| Thursday, March 26, 2015, 12:39 p.m.

Beth Corning's latest work continues her fascination with the disparity between the simplified picture of life we're given as children with what people experience as their life unfolds.

The fourth version of “At Once There Was a House” debuted March 25, the first of five performances at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

Each version has been different because Corning creates them according to what the performers at hand bring in terms of skills, life experiences and personality. This version is one of her Glue Factory projects, which employs performers older than 40 with diverse backgrounds, including Squonk Opera, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pilobolus and Attack Theater.

“At Once There Was a House” plays off the old Dick-and-Jane readers. They serve Corning's dramatic purpose well.

There was plenty of laughter in the audience as the six characters introduced themselves. The first two women identified themselves as Jane, and one of the men acted like the dog Spot, but said he was Little Richard.

The simple costumes are white, as blank as a piece of paper. Yet, Corning, Jackie Dempsey, John Gresh, Yoav Kaddar, Michele de la Reza and Tamar Rachelle Tolentino were distinctive personalities with differing needs, self-confidence and concerns.

The piece proceeds through scenes featuring different characters.

One of the most direct was a duet by Tolentino and Kaddar as a far-from-ideal married couple. A spoken text sets the mundane context, such as washing blueberries by hand and who gets the morning newspaper first. Their movements show how their relationship is not about love and how their competitiveness holds each other back.

De la Reza, who was the most assertive and desiring of attention during the introduction, dances a dissatisfied and impatient solo, which ends in her setting fire to the house, or, rather, a small front of a house, behind which she performed.

There is more theater than dance in this example of dance theater, although the movement is never less than fresh and appealing.

Actor John Gresh does an excellent job bringing “The Dick and Jane Hamlet” by Larry Siegel to life. The language is grossly simplified, but the story still has the Shakespearean blood and death — although, not the famous “To be or not to be.” Ultimately, the segment is too long.

The cast was obviously well-rehearsed and showed its mastery to the smallest details.

Corning often says she's more interested in questions than answers. Enigmatic and surreal aspects of this new version of “House” certainly gives the audience plenty to mull over after the show. Life isn't what we thought it would be, even an hour ago.

Corning Works' “At Once There Was a House” will be repeated at 8 p.m. March 27 and 28, and 2 p.m. March 29 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, North Side. Admission is $30, $25 for seniors and students, $50 on March 27 (including the company birthday party), pay-what-you-can on March 29. Details: 412-320-4610 or

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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