by Loren Noveck · August 17, 2014
This Is Where We Live is strikingly simple: two actors, three folding chairs, two props. But playwright Vivienne Walshe has an impressionistic writing style that shows, in flashes and glimpses, a social landscape through the eyes of two people, Australian teenagers in love in a dead-end town. Her elliptical (if occasionally cloyingly poetic) language silhouettes a chain of moments that comprise her story.
Chloe and Chris are an unlikely couple. Chloe’s new in town for her last year of high school. The new place wasn’t her idea; she and her mother have just moved in with another new boyfriend of her mother’s: a pattern Chloe sees inscribed in their “white trash DNA.” Chloe can see violence coming, and she’s braced, almost eager for it, because—although she hates knowing this—somehow it cements and explains her place in the world. Her strength comes from this pained wisdom, and her insistence on fighting even if it gets her nowhere.
Chris, the dreamy, bookish son of their English teacher, is a less defined character. He sees how his parents’ lives have fallen short of their own dreams, and wants to get out of this dead-end town. Unlike Chloe’s mom, Chris’s parents focus intently on him, harboring ambitions that don’t include falling in love with a defiant, learning-disabled new student from the wrong side of the tracks.
Chris and Chloe don’t really understand why they’re drawn together: she calls him “Odd Boy” and he sees her as almost a mythical creature, destined to be out of his reach. Yet they circle each other warily, trying to connect, failing as often as they succeed.
Walshe constructs the piece from intertwined monologues, descriptive more than internal: a running catalog of what Chloe and Chris see, hear, and feel. (There’s very little dialogue where the two speak to each other.) Each is a seething mass of sensory impressions, and Walshe captures these as they roil—how the two move, what they overhear, what they want others to see in them, their fleeting thoughts—more than how they analyze their lives or relate to each other. Shaelee Rooke and Oliver de Rohan capture that adolescent, bursting-with-emotion quality well, though differently; he gets lost in his own dreamy interior state, where she acts impulsively just to see what she’ll feel like on the other side. But both are caught up in private inner dramas, not knowing what to seek out of life, other than “something else”; they want escape more than they want each other.
That vagueness sometimes handicaps the play, and the credibility of Chloe and Chris’s relationship. When it works, This Is Where We Live has beautiful moments and sequences of electrically sharp observation, but it can also be murky and muddy; Walshe can get bogged down in her own language. At its best, her style is unusual and powerful; at its worst, it distracts from what’s happening on stage. The character of Chloe is the play’s real strength, sometimes stronger than the piece that surrounds her.