Ochre House Theater
Director – Justin Locklear
Original Music – Justin Locklear and Earl Norman
Lyrics – Justin Locklear
Scenic Artist – IZK Dvs
Set Design – Matthew Posey
Costume Design – Amie Carson
Lighting Design – Kevin Grammer
Carpenters – Kevin Grammer, and Justin Locklear
Stage Management – Ellen Shaddock
House Management – Cynthia Webb
Photography – Justin Locklear and Karlo X. Ramos
Graphic Designer – Jeremy Word
John #1 – Brad Hennigan
Claire – Carla Parker
John #2 – Josh Jordan
Barry – Dante Martinez
Belinda – Elizabeth Evans
Fuxie Shuzz – Marti Etheridge
John #3 – Ryan Glenn
The Cat – Trey
Cook/Musician – Earl Norman
Cook/Musician – Stefan Gonzales
Reviewed Performance 8/24/2016
Reviewed by Scott Hazard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
When I got to Exposition Park, I liked the funky vibe the area gives off. It feels artsy, friendly and like something really cool might be behind any of those non-descript doors you normally walk right past on the sidewalk. Being my first trip to the Ochre House Theater, I arrived early, so I found a bar a few doors down to visit before the show. During some chit chat with Chris the bartender, I mentioned that I was waiting for the theater to open. He spoke proudly that some of his bar patrons and employees help with set work and other things there, and that some of the cast and crew are his customers. It felt like the Ochre House Theater was a neighborhood effort. I knew at this point that I was in for something fun.
Coming in and taking my seat, the theater was exactly what I hoped it to be, an intimate, friendly and well-used artisan workspace. If you want chandeliers, people in tuxedos and ushers wearing red coats, maybe the Ochre House isn’t for you, not that there is anything wrong with a fancy theatre, but this is a much different, and even more important in my opinion, theatrical experience. The old building is rich with character, from the mural on the wall with visible plaster cracks, to the old, embossed facade ceiling tiles, probably original to the building, covered up by lighting instruments, bars and wiring above the stage.
The set is decorated perfectly by Artistic Director, Mathew Posey as a fading diner as the show revolves around brother and sister John #1, played by Brad Hennigan and Claire, played by Carla Parker, who have inherited the diner upon their father’s passing. More on characters and acting in a moment, but I need to finish my thought on why this type of production is important.
It is important for the theater not to be negatively influenced by the shrinking attention spans and the waning desire for human interaction that seem to be affecting so much of our society in this digital age of communication. There is no better measure of attention span than a small theater that is known for producing all of its own material being provocative and edgy without overusing adult language or themes. Tonight’s performance, by changing two words, could be G-rated. Huge kudos to Playwright and Director Justin Locklear on producing a poignant, relevant, thought-provoking adult play without unnecessarily pushing. There is a time and a place to push, but pushing often goes too far and is often little more than gratuitous and used mostly for shock value. Locklear is clearly masterful with his words, words that speak loudly on their own. It’s important that this flavor of theater continues in our culture. Small indie troupes like this are the backbone of American theater during a time when the arts seem to be under attack.
Locklear employed elements of Commedia dell'arte in Dreamless. The actors wear face paint, each with their own individuality. Their gestures and the blocking for the show were done to accentuate this style with larger-than-life movements and grand gesturing. Combined with the face paint that already provides this effect, the blocking and the gestures really make this show an interesting spectacle. There are other aspects of the face paint woven wonderfully in to the story of the play. As there are several performances left, I will not give this away, but I will say that it is a touch of creativity that I have not seen before and I liked it.
As stated earlier, the story revolves around John #1, aka John the Manager, and his sister, Claire who have inherited the diner. The relationship between these two characters is the glue of the story while the other characters either compliment, or perhaps sometimes even try to damage the already tepid relationship between John and his sister. The story delves into complex familial relationships to which anyone with siblings, or even close friends, can easily relate. As far as the acting between the two, both are tremendous. By the time the show was over, I had run the gambit with John the Manager. I flowed from the sympathetic end of the spectrum to the antagonistic, and right back again with this character. Brad Hennigan plays John solidly all the way through, bringing out some very, very nice emotions at times. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, because you really need to see this play.
By the time this play was over, I felt like I personally knew Claire, played by Carla Parker. Parker brings an ease and a grace to this character that makes you love her, even though you might not exactly like how things shake out. This is a combination of writing and acting, but take nothing away from the performance by Carla Parker here. You know this lady when you leave this show. You will wonder about her while you’re driving home.
Enter John #2, played by Josh Jordan and Barry and Belinda, played by Dante Martinez and Elizabeth Evans, and the hijinks are underway. Showing us how life can be influenced and affected by pressured choices, and sometimes intentionally wrong choices, Barry and Belinda put John #2 in the spotlight of their game show (that is indeed life) and put him under stress.
Dante Martinez and Elizabeth Evans played well off of each other as their characters seemed to pop in and out to offer a distraction just as the story seemed to find a sense of normalcy. Josh Jordan as John #2, the bartender, was just too funny. His energy on stage and his general aura fit the Commedia dell'arte feel of the show perfectly and rendered him truly larger than life.
Fuxie Shuzz, indeed an “unfortunate” name, is the love interest of John #2 and the supplier of food and drink to the diner. Played by Marti Etheridge, Fuxie is absolutely hilarious. Etheridge is a ball of energy, and was apparently a blues singer in another life because she can, and does, belt out some very legitimate bluesy stylings.
Ryan Glenn as John #3 brings to the stage a level of drama that somehow seems to even things out. Usually drama is what sets things askew, but in this brilliantly-written show the drama seems to be the counterweight. Ryann Glenn did a fine job of differentiating his character from the others and when needed, did some fine acting in a tense scene.
How this troupe ever got that cat, Trey, to do those tricks on stage and make the entrances and exits on cue is simply beyond me. I tip my hat to Trey the Cat. Great job, kitty.
The musicians for the show were dressed as cooks, set in the kitchen and visible only through the pick-up window. Stefan Gonzales and Earl Jay Norman kept the pace moving with live sound effects as well. All percussion for this show was performed on pots, pans, what looked to be a large colander and a few other kitchen implements. At one point, some very nice effects are created using the makeshift percussion instruments. This was wildly creative and very well done.
Costume Designer Amie Carson scored as costumes in this play looked great. The contrast between certain characters was just right and the Barry outfit was just too much… in a fabulous way. Lighting Designer, Kevin Grammer, hit all of the marks. I was surprised at how well the stage, being quite small, was lit in clearly defined sections as the play progressed. The use of special lighting, colors and the backlighting coming through the glass on the door all fit together nicely, not too much, but plenty of effective accents.
This show runs through September 10. Simply put, you should go see it. From the grandiose antics and movement to the rock solid acting to the purely fun and whimsical appearances of Trey the Cat to the director’s brilliant use of the face paint to make a statement toward the end of the play, this is a show that is very much worth seeing. It’s a message of unity, division, love and betrayal that is now more relevant than ever in America and the world. Well done, Ochre House. Color me a fan.
Ochre House Theater
825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas TX 75226
Plays through September 10th
Wednesday – Saturday at 8:15 PM
Visit www.OchreHouseTheater.com or call (214) 826-6273