Isaac Gomez’s ‘The Displaced’: A Gentrification Horror Story

The Displaced by Isaac Gomez is going into the final weekend of a phenomenal run at Haven Theatre this Friday. Gomez is a versatile writer who is using this script to explore the theme of home and gentrification with a razor sharp wit and a lot of terror. The play opens with a young couple moving into a fixer upper apartment in Pilsen and trying to unpack. Marisa (Karen Rodriguez) is a young artist who takes her work very seriously and yet her rent is paid by her hard working parents. Lev (Rashaad Hall) is her sweet boyfriend who is working as a server but can’t quite make enough money to make ends meet. The absence of money creates a rift in their relationship that is quite relatable. Part of the myth of adulthood is having the income to establish our own space, something unachievable for many millennials and a conversation that we don’t have enough.

Rifts, secrets, and jump scares are abound in Gomez’s captivating psychological thriller. Halfway through watching it I put my notebook down and clutched the person I’d brought with me, because Karen Rodriguez had possessed my soul. The performances of both actors and the high stakes of the play demand the audience’s attention. Rodriguez manages to bring the ancestors into the Bookspan Theatre. She rises to the enormous task of representing well-meaning young people and the people they replace equally. We’ve gotten glimpses at the range of Rodriguez’s vocal and physical work in recent productions such as The Doppelgänger at Steppenwolf, but here she gets to show off the extent of her impressive vocal range and physicality.

Holding his own next to this formidable leading lady is Rashaad Hall as her boyfriend Lev. Hall improves in every show he’s been in, and he has been working hard, making appearances at About Face and ATC. He’s impossibly earnest in this role even when we are supposed to doubt him most, and actually made me trust that things might be alright. Books flying across the space? Hall could tell you it’s the air conditioning and you’d believe him. Rude.

Cattell has an enormous job staging this play as there are a lot of tricks in this little forty seat house and she does not shy away from the challenge. The play’s stage magic is really impressive especially for such a small theatre. Stage management came out for a much-deserved bow at the end because they executed some  amazing tricks on Arnel Sancianco’s set. He created an attic that you can actually see people walking around in, and to have those levels in that space was phenomenal. Rachel Flesher and Zack Payne did the intimacy, rigging of tricks, and violence design for this production, creating very believable circumstances on all three fronts. The play is unexpectedly sexy and Hall and Rodriguez have chemistry that is accentuated by the design. Sarah D. Espinoza’s sound design haunts us as we move through this thriller, and compliments Erik S. Barry’s lights. Sometimes we only had the light of a flashlight, sometimes the refrigerator, and the absence of light was often more effective than seeing everything given the spooky nature of the play.

The Displaced forces its characters to come to terms with the privileges they do have, while acknowledging the ways in which they are marginalized. Not only that, but how different they are from each other and the struggles of being an interracial couple. One of the truly scary parts of this production is the horrific realization that none of us are exempt from participating in gentrification, colonization, or erasure just because of the color of our skin. Gomez does not pull any punches, and weaves both love and shocking brutality into this piece. Do not miss your last chance to see this play. I usually can’t stand scary things and I watched it through my fingers, but I still wouldn’t forgive myself if I missed it. You will scream, you will laugh, and you will be forced to think, but you will have no regrets about seeing this play.

The Displaced produced by Haven Theatre  runs at The Bookspan Theatre in the The Den until July 1st.

Playwright – Isaac Gomez
Director – Jo Cattell
Stage Manager – MJ Dougherty
Scenic Design – Arnel Sancianco
Lighting Design – Erik S. Barry
Costume Design – Christine Pascual
Sound Design – Sarah D. Espinoza
Props Design – Emily Boyd
Rigging/Intimacy/Violence Design – Rebecca Flesher and Zack Payne
Dramaturg – Rebecca Adelsheim
Photos – Austin D. Oie

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