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Get inside the housing bubble in SUBPRIME!
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Get inside the housing bubble in SUBPRIME!

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

SUBPRIME! Inside the Heart of the Mortgage Meltdown
VoxBox, 1205 Pike
Through September 19


A former subprime loan officer and past and current actor, Norman Bell wants to help you understand how this economic meltdown happened. To do that, he's created a one-man show where he demonstrates the rah-rah attitude of the mortgage-makers, and even the underhanded tactics that include forging someone's name on paperwork and "stating" someone's salary as four and five times their real salary.

Bell has created a bang-up experience, turning the whole audience into junior loan officers and giving pep talks. He explains how loans work by graphics of Larry the Loan and Ivan the Investment Banker. He exhorts us to strive to become loan officers (dropping that awful junior). And he shows us exactly how to do it by becoming a trainee being shown the works.

His story starts in 2005, with John Bartlett "shadowing" a loan officer and being shown how to follow and collect leads. At first, his phone calls are all hang-ups, abuse for calling the number for the 17th time (the company's fault), and other failures. Soon he figures out how to sell loans and his fortunes start to change. Bartlett is motivated by wanting to help his sick father pay his medical bills, so he swallows his trepidation and moral unease and keeps moving forward, using the same techniques he has been shown. These include asking people what they dream about and then having them dream with him about how it could be. After that, he is taught to claim that all their dreams can come true by getting a mortgage: an option ARM, a no-money-down interest only, or stated income loan - all of these we now know to be extremely risky.

John quiets his inner ethics advisor with thoughts of "everyone else is doing it" and "this is how it's done," even though he knows forgery is a crime. He's reassured by several corporate sleazeballs that he's doing the right thing. Then the money gets really good, and that justifies his conduct.

Bell takes us through the crash of the housing market and up to 2009. While the beginning of his presentation is like a pep rally and funny and true-to-life, later on in this short program, the meltdown gets a bit serious. House loans that John sells are ready to be foreclosed on and John feels responsible. It's nice that there is an ethical loan officer, but that may be the least true-to-life part of the evening. How many loan officers would track and phone some of their prior clients to try to help them?

Bell is a likable fellow and handles the techniques of changing characters well, though he's still learning. Gin Hammond, his director and an expert at the form, has helped him individualize the physical characteristics of each. He can only get better at it, in time. While he only has two more performances Friday and Saturday nights (for a total of four performances all together), he will perform for three more nights during Free Theater Week in mid-October at the Odd Duck Theatre. So, you can still plan to see the show.

It's an exciting ride from beginning to end and you can't help but learn about the business and some of why those toxic loans brought our economy down. It's a cautionary tale, but you can have some fun while you hear the story. For more information, go to www.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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