First impressions count. But all that glitters is not gold for baby beauty queens in our Reality TV obsessed culture. And yes, we CAN blame our parents for this one.
House of Gold at Ensemble Studio LA is a dark comedy inspired by the JonBenet Ramsey murder touching upon the actual murder and the current exploitation of children in our fame obsessed culture, where children are publicly overly sexualized, humiliated, paraded, derided as objects of humor and made to feel like it is all just normal. A scathing behind closed doors, kaleidoscope of Toddlers & Tiaras mega drama proportions on stage that completely illuminates our society, our values and ourselves.
The following is a reprint from the original review which appeared on LA Theatre Review:
First impressions count. Isn’t that what we all hear growing up? Make sure you look good, look pretty, dress well, act nice, smile, so that everyone will like you – even your own parents. And so it was, walking into the Ensemble Studio Theatre in Atwater Village, met by a triptych of screens, staged in a semi theatre-in-the-round, set in a stadium-like view, ready to experience the West Coast premiere of, House of Gold written by Gregory Moss. Cut to video imagery of picturesque scenes, back yard, water, instantly and quite enormously immersed in an innocence that in every unfathomable way was also portentous and bone chilling.
All that glitters is not gold in the affair of beauty, especially when you are a naïve child whose parents are existing in a sort of fugue of dullness, anger, resentment, and non-fulfillment, evidenced by a usual daily coffee, eggs, sausage, toast and morning paper, served dully and meanly by “has been” feeling mom and completely unaware and un-attentive dad, living quite vicariously through their perfect doll of a little girl.
“Honey what’s in the sausage?
“Jon Benet Ramsey”
“Well it’s good.”
House of Gold is a dark comedy inspired by the JonBenet Ramsey murder ten years ago which eerily touches upon the actual murder and also the modern and current exploitation of children by none other than their own parents in our fame obsessed, Reality TV culture where children are publicly overly sexualized, humiliated, paraded, derided as objects of humor and made to feel like it is all just normal. If you’ve seen Toddlers and Tiaras you’ll know instantly how disturbing it really is to watch a hair-sprayed, falsies stuffed, glue stick of a mini-me strut her stuff on stage for critical judges and the big win. House of Gold hits the mark in its exposé of the child beauty pageant culture and yet goes further by telling the back story of what life really might be like behind closed doors.
“No one ugly allowed.”
There are two main child characters in this play who find an unlikely commonality with each other. Where JonBenet (played by Jacqueline Wright) gets too much attention, her angry, foul language, acting out all the time friend Jasper (played by Alex Davis) is completely neglected by his parents. The duo create a marked juxtaposition that sadly concludes the same horrible end for both.
Mr. Davis finds his way into the psyche of a little kid quite well, mouthing off to the local gang of beautiful and much too rough football playing older “Apollonian” boys (Chris Arvan, Josh Heine, Matt Little, Eric Schulman) in the neighborhood. His antics get him plenty of negative attention.
But what sizes up, quite literally, the show, is Ms. Wright, as a waif of a woman who by all accounts is very much older than the character and yet who incandescently manages to suspend our disbelief with her behavior and child-like nuances, speech and movement in every single way. Ms. Wright is so thoroughly ingenious in her portrayal of JonBenet, also interacting at times with the media screen, that we only see a vivacious little girl skipping around, making silly and absurd gestures and comments, laughing, giggling and struggling to make wide eyed sense of what are in truth pointed, deliberate psychological attacks and physical molestation on her little person. She is taken advantage of by everyone, the perverse predator, ice cream man (Graham Sibley), her violent mother, her own father (Tony Pasqualini), even the detective who investigates her murder (Keith Arthur Bolden). All except for Jasper. They are both merely victims in this story.
The mother (woman) sagaciously played by Denise Crosby is full of rage and pent up frustration. Living life through prescription painkillers and anti-depressants because her own beauty, now dulled with age, is useless. She sits at the kitchen table writing the ransom note where she addresses herself, “we didn’t take you because we didn’t see you. You are invisible. That’s why we took your daughter.” Again, more than a mere reflection of ourselves, our values and our society. It is so well written. So well done.
The whole show, like all of the relationships in it, is warped, demented, twisted, and manipulative. It is revelatory polychrome of self-evacing truths.
Jon Benet is just a little girl, naïve and wanting only to please, and most of all be a little girl – but never gets the chance.
“Look at me.” “I’m sexy.” “My parents want me to look a certain way. They are proud of dressing me. They want me to look sexy. That’s what they want.” “Every man wants me to look at his thingy.” “They humiliate me.”
House of Gold is intense, illuminating and powerful.
A+ for all:
Written by Gregory Moss, directed by Gates McFadden. Set Design by Kurt Boetcher; Animation by Drew Christi;e Video Design by Alexander Mibecki; Projection Design by William Parks; Lighting Design by Elizabeth Harper; Sound Design by David B. Marling; Costume Design by Christina Haatainenen-Jones: Choreography by Gates McFadden