Theater

Old Paper Houses and the Human Susceptibility to Utopia’s Promise

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If the Northeast has such nasty weather, why is it home to so many utopian experiments, from Walden to Woodstock? You may find yourself pleasantly pondering such questions while watching Old Paper Houses, a bittersweet
ensemble piece from the company Piehole, directed by Tara Ahmadinejad and playing at the Irondale Center.

Drawing on the history of American utopian communities and the earthy poetry of Bernadette Mayer, Piehole’s performers construct overlapping tales of idealism and disillusionment. We watch them found a nineteenth-century cooperative farm, milking cows and planting seeds, then witness its erosion under the pressures of hard labor and grim weather. Later they construct a quirky present-day idyll with solar panels and green bike paths. Piehole gestures to
the ways our utopianism persists, and
to the fallout such projects create, from unfinished infrastructure to cultish politics. Romping through a miniature town made of makeshift
cardboard buildings — which they assemble and reassemble, aiming for paradise — the cast evokes a sense of scrappy
possibility.

Old Paper Houses needs a ruthless edit; many sequences repeat each other, and toward the end indulgence and sentimentality set in. Still, the piece brims with poignant silliness — and, inviting us to stay late for music and food (there are several special post-show events), the company does its part to create community right where it is.