MRS. HAGGARDLYBy Matthew Posey
Ochre House Theater
Directed by Matthew Posey
Composer and Music Director – Justin Locklear
Stage Management – Elizabeth Loyle Carr
Set Design – Matthew Posey
Scenic Artist – IZK Davies
Lighting Design – Kevin Grammer
Costume Design – Samantha Rodriguez Corgan
Set Engineer/Prop Design – Mitchell Parrack & Matthew Posey
House Management – Cynthia D. Webb
House Staff – Amie Carson
Photographer – Farah White
Graphic Design – Jeremy Word
Mrs. Haggardly – Matthew Posey
Madam Pigslips – Bill Bolender
Mrs. Busybottom – Will Acker
Little Alfred – Chris Sykes
Lulu Lillylilly – Monet Lerner
Pumpkin Pants – Quinn Coffman
Johnny Rumsrunner – Lauren Massey
The General – Carla Parker
Magistrate Huffenbergen – Brad Hennigan
Dr. Tangletwat (organ) – Trey Pendergrass
Peter Knife Hands (guitar) – Gregg Prickett
Blissninny (cello) – Sarah Rubio-Rogerson
Reviewed Performance: 2/19/2020
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The set is exquisite. Murals on the side walls immerse the audience in a deep blue forest, one with a crash site. The Hall of Madams is beautifully rendered in unsettling decay. Murals reproduce red brick construction with a crumbling façade intermittently pocked with bomb damage, bullet holes, and spider-web cracks. The gorgeous central mural depicts a series of archways in a receding hall decorated with oil portraits of women in traditional European headdresses. Exposed beams above an antique organ reveal bomb damage.
Three wooden chairs with soaring, artistically carved backs take center stage. When the lights go up, the audience is treated to an amazing triptych: it looks like three oil portraits of elaborately coifed and garbed European Ladies come to life. And the middle one has a full beard. Meet Mrs. Haggardly (Matthew Posey), and her sidekicks Madam Pigslips (Bill Bolender) and Mrs. Busybottom (Will Acker). These three formidable women sleep in the Hall of Madams and preside over Mrs. Haggardly’s Home for Wayward Children.
The Ochre House has a laudable devotion to live music, and this production does not disappoint. The haunting strings are wonderful and set the mood of doom, foreboding, and all around creepiness. The production features strong soaring vocals, with Monet Lerner as a stand-out among the several talented singers.
The original music and lyrics are excellent, not to mention frequently hilarious. One theme is to turn the expected on its head; Posey and his band of artistic brothers and sisters take a concept, turn it inside out, and serve it up as the polar opposite. For example, the first musical number, Death Calls Merrily, is performed as a children’s sing-along, complete with hand gestures. The comforting turns menacing. Think Itsy Bitsy Spider crossed with Vincent Price and Clive Barker.
These orphans are not your mother’s Oliver Twist. Their unsightliness, deformity, and perversion constitute some of the more unsettling elements—and that is saying a lot here. The musical number Life Is Rolling the Bones, Baby is a celebration of masturbation. Not all of the music is for laughs; the depravity is interrupted with a moving ballad to lost love, Moonlight, which Posey performs with remarkable tenderness.
When they are not singing, dancing, and enjoying vespers in the Hall of Madams, the denizens of the Home are fretting over their next meal, worrying about the encroaching bombing, living or reliving lost love, and executing tortuous discipline.
“I dream of food even when I’m awake,” moans a forlorn orphan. Quinn Coffman’s Pumpkin Pants careens from pitching fits to sweetly singing The Orphan God Forgot. She and the Home’s other raggedy charges deliver energetic, humorously expressive performances. Chris Sykes is delightfully devilish as Little Alfred. Lerner is intense, frequently mesmerizing, in the bizarre character of Lulu Lillylilly.
Mrs. Haggardly whips back and forth between dulcet and menacing. Matthew Posey is at times terrifying, and the sinister effect is enhanced by excellent makeup. Even in her more sedate moments, Mrs. Haggardly can be scary, snarling lines like, “Need I remind you of your position here?,” or observations such as, “Nostalgia is for imbeciles.” “Our revenge will be slathered in the butter of human kindness,” is a foreboding line that gets a momentous reprieve in the final act.
Bolender and Acker are fun to watch. As bedecked and adorned, Bolender bears an uncanny resemblance to a centuries’ old painting of a rich old woman. The story arc of Acker’s Mrs. Busybottom takes a harrowing turn from her initial carping over the loss of her love, Archibald. Busybottom sleepwalks with a shovel, chanting “Mommy is coming.” The good news is, she didn’t kill her boys. But, then there is the bad news . . . .
The stage sports a claw-foot tub, leaving the audience to wonder what lurks behind the shower curtain. “Robespierre” emerges from his bathtub like an Easter Island god. Robespierre is Madam Pigslips’ bizarre love interest. The historical Robespierre is probably best known for the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution; Robespierre-in-a-bathtub is fitting thematically for this dark and macabre production.
Mrs. Haggardly and her compatriots sport names worthy of a Charles Dickens’ novel, and visually the production treats us to riffs on works of art, most predominantly portraiture of elaborately adorned European ladies. Familiar imagery is re-imagined with unsettling creepiness. That the Madams sleep in their chairs, and the theme of decay, reminded me of Beckett and End Game in particular.
The artistry of the set is only rivaled by the elaborate costumes. That the threesome, and the one living human love interest, The General (a hilarious Carla Parker), are cross-dressing adds to the humor and the surrealism. The elaborate period costumes are frequently whimsical and impressive in their bulk and complexity. The hair and makeup are piled on and up with considerable artistry.
The sound design rises to several challenges: a microphone that Mrs. Haggardly hilariously whips out to announce vespers and other Home news, the god-like voice of Robespierre, and the glorious live music and frequent song and dance numbers. The complicated lighting variations are exceptionally designed and executed, with delicious creepy effects.
This unsettling play reverberates with heavy themes. What does innocence mean, what can it mean, in the age of nihilism? I heard the political argument recently that, “the children are watching.” The Home’s unwholesome orphans fairly reflect a society set on self-destruction. What should starving civilians facing impending doom in the midst of never-ending war think of God, of faith?
Mrs. Haggardly is not to be missed for its originality, no-holes-barred performances, visual and musical artistry, and theatrically sophisticated use of space. Hold on for an eye-popping ride. You will not see anything like it.
Ochre House Theater
February 8 – 29, 2020
825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, TX 75226
For information and Tickets call (214) 826-6273 or go to https://www.ochrehousetheater.org/.