Jenn Griffin’s life arc has gone from rolling up discarded cigarette butts to home ownership on Vancouver’s West Side.
She’s seen poverty and wealth.
Griffin is loath to call it wealth, however, instead suggesting home ownership came by way of good timing and a bit of luck.
“The housing market went crazy and we became these highly privileged people because we had bought a house,” the veteran playwright and actor told the Courier. “So a lot of our friends in this older, boomer or Gen X age range had bought property and were feeling embarrassed.”
Griffin and her partner bought their home in 2005. Fast forward 15 years and Griffin debuts her play House and Home at the Firehall Arts Centre from Jan. 11 to 25.
Though billed as a comedy, the plot reads like a horror show with all the nefarious characters and shady situations that dominate housing in today’s Vancouver. In House and Home, the dark, abandoned road is replaced by an unaffordable house inundated by rats, while the chainsaw wielding maniac is actually an overzealous realtor.
New homeowners Hilary and Henry are the main characters, beset by costly home renovations. They’ve got a tenant downstairs who’s secretly moved in a girlfriend, both of whom live off a two-burner stove and no heat.
The home is besieged by rats, and the only way to make ends meet is for Hilary and Henry to contemplate turfing the downstairs tenant and turning the extra space into an Airbnb.
All the while, a realtor is hovering around with intentions to buy the house, knock it down and sell it as a land assembly.
Oh, and a homeless person lives in a shed near the back of the property unbeknownst to anyone.
“The housing market is dominating how people are living their lives, putting so much pressure on what choices they make, what they’re allowed to do and how that affects their ability to actually have a place where they actually feel safe,” director Donna Spencer told the Courier in an interview.
There is an air of familiarity as it relates to Griffin’s life, though the longtime Vancouverite says the play isn’t so much autobiographical as it is a patchwork of characters and scenarios she’s encountered.
“I’ve been in so many different socioeconomic statuses: I’ve been on welfare, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been with really bad, inappropriate landlords,” Griffin said. “Throughout my earlier life, there were lots of hardships and lots of rocky periods with housing.”
Of the roughly 20 cast and crew members involved in the play, only four own homes. All of the actors and crew hold down two, three or four jobs.
Griffin and Spencer are the outliers. Both own single-family homes and rather than it being a point of pride, both live with a mild case of survivor’s guilt.
“The cultural scene is drifting out to New Westminster — people are living there because they can live there,” Griffin said. “Many of my friends have migrated out there because there is still affordable rent. The questions become ‘Where are our values, what do we want our city to be?’”
Previews for House and Home begin Jan. 11, while opening night is Jan. 15. See firehallartscentre.ca for ticket prices and show times.