‘Dream House’ asks will you trade a lifetime of memories for cash?

Darilyn Castillo (left) and Jacqueline Correa play the sisters Julia and Patricia, putting their family home for sale on an HGTV-style television show hosted by Marianna McLellan as Tessa. Photos: Alliance Theatre

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Darilyn Castillo (left) and Jacqueline Correa play the sisters Julia and Patricia, putting their family home for sale on an HGTV-style television show hosted by Marianna McLellan as Tessa. Photos: Alliance Theatre

Playwright’s prize-winning script gets Alliance production.

When you sell your childhood home, built by your great-great-grandfather, have you lost your history?

And if you lose your history, who are you?

“Dream Hou$e,” a new play by emerging playwright Eliana Pipes, which opens this week at the Alliance Theatre, offers a discerning, sometimes grotesque, often merry and ultimately tender view of a pair of sisters who are in the process of shedding their skins to become something new.

Their old skin is represented by this old house — drafty, but with good bones — now suddenly valuable in their rapidly changing neighborhood.

To say goodbye to this house is, in a sense, to wave off their Latin roots in an attempt to cash in on the American dream. To maximize that cash, the sisters, Julia and Patricia, agree to participate in a game show, “Flip It and List It,” that puts their painful transition on a national television stage.

Pipes wrote this economical three-character drama while pursuing an MFA at Boston University. The play is the winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. A contest for student playwrights, the Kendeda has boosted some significant careers, including that of Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” inspired the 2017 Academy Award-winning film for best picture, “Moonlight.”

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Eliana Pipes' first-time production "Dream Hou$e" is the winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. Photo: Eliana Pipes

Credit: Eliana Pipes

Eliana Pipes' first-time production "Dream Hou$e" is the winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. Photo: Eliana Pipes

Credit: Eliana Pipes

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Eliana Pipes' first-time production "Dream Hou$e" is the winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. Photo: Eliana Pipes

Credit: Eliana Pipes

Credit: Eliana Pipes

Pipes graduated from BU in 2021, but the traditional production of her senior thesis was delayed for seven months as COVID-19 shut down theaters.

This play has been workshopped around the country, but this staging is Pipes first professional production, and she is stoked.

“I was really afraid I would never have my work seen on the stage, that my play would never find a home,” said Pipes, a Los Angeles native who has been in Atlanta for the past two weeks, participating in the rehearsals. “I think the pandemic made everybody feel that way. I’m really overjoyed that my play found three homes.”

“Dream Hou$e” is a co-production between the Alliance and Baltimore Center Stage in Maryland and Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut; it will play in those cities after its world premiere here.

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Set builders first created a model of the house that sisters Julia and Patricia share in "Dream Hou$e," before creating the set. Photo: the Alliance Theatre.

Credit: Alliance Theatre

Set builders first created a model of the house that sisters Julia and Patricia share in "Dream Hou$e," before creating the set. Photo: the Alliance Theatre.

Credit: Alliance Theatre

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Set builders first created a model of the house that sisters Julia and Patricia share in "Dream Hou$e," before creating the set. Photo: the Alliance Theatre.

Credit: Alliance Theatre

Credit: Alliance Theatre

In particular, Pipes loves seeing the “Crew” on stage, who never made an appearance during earlier “music stand” readings. These non-speaking individuals represent the camera crew and production assistants for the fictional television show, “Flip It And List It,” but they also propel the action in choreographed precision, moving furniture, knocking down walls, transforming the house in front of our eyes.

The crew swirls around the three speaking characters. They are:

  • Julia, six months pregnant, who is visiting the house for the first time since their mother died. Though she avoided her mother during that final illness, she is fixated on the family, the great-great-grandfather who built the house with his own hands, and the connection to her culture that the house represents. She literally pulls memories out of the walls, discovering old letters and personal items during the demo stage.
  • Patricia, Julia’s older sister, smart and chic, who is ready to take advantage of the booming property values, to move the house at a profit, and leave behind the neighborhood that once nurtured a Latinx subculture.
  • Tessa, the game show host, who knows more about the sisters than she lets on.

“One sister is obsessed with the past, one with the future,” said Pipes. “Together, they meet in the present, they let go of their obsessions, and recognize what they have, which is each other.”

The play is about gentrification, but it doesn’t set up a simple conflict of Latin American culture under siege. Pipes, who is Black, white and Puerto Rican, experienced gentrification in her own L.A. neighborhood, which was partly to her family’s benefit.

“We chose to sell our house, which was complicated,” said the playwright, who also directs, acts, and works in film. “We profited, we participated. On the one hand, the move was good: We could afford things that we couldn’t afford before. But also moving out of that neighborhood at that time constitutes a kind of cultural loss I didn’t understand when I was a kid.”

Her portrayal of Latinx life is nuanced.

“If it was a different play by a different playwright — say Garcia Lorca — then absolutely the spirits would come out of the walls and they would dance in the moonlight together,” said Pipes.

Yet there is something eerie happening in the house, especially when it veers into Twilight Zone territory in the fourth scene.

This was the first play Pipes wrote in graduate school, and the lukewarm reaction the first scene received from her teachers had an impact on the development of the show, in particular on the genesis of that surreal left turn.

“I brought in scene one, which looked essentially like scene one looks in the finished play,” she said, “and my teacher said ‘this is good, but what are you going to do that’s really fresh?’ So I went home in a blind rage and wrote scene four.”

The play, directed by Laurie Woolery, features Darilyn Castillo as Julia, Jacqueline Correa as Patricia and Marianna McClellan as Tessa.

Castillo, who also identifies as Afro-Latina, said “This is the first Latin role that I have ever been offered to play and I do not take this moment for granted. I am grateful to take this honorable position and to finally be able to express a part of myself that has been denied and not accepted by others.”

“Dream Hou$e” will have its world premiere on the smaller Hertz Stage at Alliance Theatre, Jan 28-Feb. 13. A filmed version of “Dream Hou$e” will also be available to stream online Feb. 11-27, on the Alliance’s website. In March the Alliance will also present staged readings for the four finalists in the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition.


THEATER PREVIEW

“Dream Hou$e”

Jan. 28-Feb. 13. $25-$60. All audience members ages 12 and older must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test. Face masks are required at all times in the theater. Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4600, alliancetheatre.org.