By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Hoarding is a pattern of behavior characterized by the need to hold on to material possessions, regardless of value, as well as tremendous difficulty parting with them. TV programs like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive brought the condition to national attention, and now, off the WALL productions in Carnegie is bringing it to the Pittsburgh stage.
Hoard, a new one-act play by Pittsburgh playwright Lissa Brennan, dives into the life of Viv Donahue, a born-and-bred Pittsburgher living in the house her great-grandfather built, played by Virginia Wall Gruenert. The house, over many years, has filled to the brim with things due to Viv’s hoarding behaviors. Viv’s living conditions become so bad that her daughter hires Claire, an organizational life consultant, played by Erika Cuenca, to help her address the problem.
The two-person play was written by Brennan with Cuenca and Wall Gruenert in mind.
Hoard will run at off the WALL productions, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie, weekends through March 21.
“I wanted to do something that was going to showcase, not only what everyone knows that they can do, but what I know they can do,” said Brennan in her program notes.
To this end, Brennan was very successful, because the performances of Cuenca and Gruenert were incredibly captivating. The two complement each other perfectly, with Cuenca’s methodical, jaded Claire balancing Wall Gruenert’s scattered, but bubbly, Viv.
Both actors fully embodied each character, not breaking even when their counterpart was delivering a long monologue. They both gracefully tackled the test of being on stage and in character for nearly 100 minutes straight.
Also successful was the set design, which recreated the feel of a hoarder’s home without fully restricting the movement of the actors. Boxes were stacked creatively over doorways, and surfaces were littered with newspapers, lamps, religious iconography and more.
The set also interacted with Brennan’s script throughout, creating moments of levity. One instance has Viv pick up the box set of James Cameron’s Titanic to throw away but decides against it after a second thought.
That’s something Brennan’s script does adeptly: bring lightness to a necessarily heavy topic. While the pacing of the show does drag sometimes, it does not detract from what she has achieved: a well-researched, compassionate, dark, thrilling ride through two minds who aren’t as different as they think they are.