By Mitchell Parrack
Ochre House Theater
Directed by Mitchell Parrack
Scenic Artist – IZK Davies
Set Design – Matthew Posey
Lighting Design – Kevin Grammer
Music Director – Justin Locklear
Costume Design – Amie Carson
Props Design – Justin Locklear
Carpenter – Mitchell Parrack
Stage Management – Korey Parker
House Management – Cynthia D. Webb
Photography – Justin O’Keith
Graphic Design – Jeremy Word & IZK Davies
Alaister Bren – Mitchell Parrack
Palmer – Kevin Grammer
Maynie – Carla Parker
Esdras – Justin Locklear
Adrienne – Angela Davis
Farber – Marcus Stimac
Polly – Danielle Bondurant
Toots – Trenton Stephenson
Peach – Cassie Bann
Reviewed Performance: 4/26/2018
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Felling by Mitchell Parrack makes its world premiere at the suavant guarde Ochre House Theater. In this thoroughly original new work, Parrack has created a haunting world unto itself as a vehicle for exploring religious, tribal, and family ties.
A visually enriching set provides the prelude for this fascinating play. In the Ochre House’s intimate space, the audience is surrounded by a desolate landscape – a mural in tan, brown, and grey. The visual center of this beautiful artistry is a tree trunk that reminded me of Van Gogh’s olive trees, but stripped of leaves. The twisted trunk and boughs suggest that this tree has grown into an unnatural shape, an appropriate foreshadowing of the action to come.
The title invokes logging, and tree branches are a repeated theme on this set, framing doorways hung with animal skins, serving as de facto clothes lines, and even providing the base for the table sitting at the corporeal center of the tribal dynamic. The rustic set, props, and costumes are reminiscent of the wild west, but if you think you have the time and place of this story pegged, you are quickly disabused of that notion. The Felling is not confined to any known site. What unfolds is a world unto itself.
A delightfully creepy sound track begins with a breathy cadence. The entrance of Alaister Bren (Mitchell Parrack) and Palmer (Kevin Grammer) borders on scary. Alaister is Palmer’s prisoner, forcibly locked into a cell. The first of several mysteries is whether Alaister will, or should, remain a captive. Is he a falsely accused victim of a crazy cult, or something else?
The rest of the cast enters, chanting along with a soundtrack reminiscent of monks -- were there a horror movie with chanting monks. This hymn of sorts features the proclamation, “He must be executed by any means.” A description of evil is, “What should never be, really is.” Thus the stage is set for a cycle of life that off-roads from the intended script.
The Felling serves up a compelling group dynamic brought to life by intense performances from a cohesive cast. We learn that the condemned prisoner, Alaister, has defended himself before. The rest of the tribe plays a surreal card game that involves the ritual passing of an incrementally loaded gun. The outcome of the game may, or may not, seal Alaister’s fate.
The playing cards emerge as a symbol for fate. The degree to which characters are trapped by the proverbial hands they are dealt is debated in a thought-provoking scene between the hard drinking Adrienne (Angela Davis) and the intelligently spoken Esdras (Justin Locklear). “The joker and the lady reveler are drawn from a deck with no court,” Adrienne concludes.
This joker is Toots (Trenton Stephenson), a delightful cross between Gunsmoke’s Festus and a Shakespearean Fool. Stephenson pulls this off with admirable gravitas. The lady reveler is Peach (Cassie Bann), who transforms from a libidinous lightweight into a serious player in the unfolding drama. The two of them are condemned to tell the truth, which they do in a compellingly poetic scene with Farber (Marcus Stimac) and his betrayed wife Polly (Danielle Bondurant).
Farber is the embodiment of lust and crude masculinity, and Stimac’s nimble and frequently humorous performance saves Farber from stereotype. Farber’s comic infidelity is audible to all, but in Parrack’s sui generis universe, Polly’s bigger problem is her desire to bear a child. The Felling inverts societal views on procreation, inviting us, here and elsewhere, to rethink our presuppositions about the cycle of life and family trees.
Palmer is locked into a long-running battle with his sister, Maynie (Carla Parker), who is devoted either to eradicating evil or blood-lust – you decide which, or whether there is that much of a difference. Parker’s Maynie is restless and riveting. As her character rails at a long-suffering Palmer, Parker’s convincing performance balances the plot line’s competing possibilities: is Alaister evil, or is he reviled merely for acknowledging the evil in the tribe?
For his part, Palmer is sick of his sister’s cruel inclinations and carries the weight of the world on his soldiers. Grammer’s soulful, sorrowful eyes speak louder than any words. As Palmer, Grammer gracefully, seemingly effortlessly, commands your full attention with nothing more than a look.
The tribe’s struggles give way to a re-focus on the condemned prisoner. Alaister at one point yells, figuratively and literally, “Don’t rattle my cage.” Parrack relishes in Alaister’s fury and the character’s sordid creepiness, somehow combining the disparate qualities of an Untouchable and a Savior. We know his outrage bears some legitimacy, and precisely how or why is an unfolding mystery.
The Felling succeeds in asking compelling questions. What is worse, deviating from “the script” or being condemned to follow it? Who, or what, truly polices human behavior? What is religion -- a fiction people agree to? And if so, to what benefit and at what cost? If you are interested in pondering these questions -- or even in simply enjoying an ingenious and evocative cast -- then The Felling is not to be missed.
Ochre House Theater
April 21 – May 12, 2018 / Wed.-Sat. at 8:14 p.m.
Ochre House Theater
825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas
For information and Tickets call 214 826 6273 or go to http://www.ochrehousetheater.com/.