Theater Review

Avant-garde Dallas troupe's revival is just as off-kilter as before

Avant-garde Dallas troupe's revival is just as off-kilter as before

Ochre House Theater presents Morphing
Carla Parker, Justin Locklear, and Chris Sykes in Morphing. Photo by Karlo Ramos

Ochre House Theatre doesn't do satire like most. Its takes on well-known subject matter are so off-the-wall, you're more likely to think of the creations as separate whole beings than spin-offs.

But when those moments of recognition do pop through, it's a nice reminder that this troupe knows what it's talking about.

Morphing first premiered at the alternative Expo Park theater in 2011. A hazy, crazy cartoon version of Long Day's Journey Into Night, Matthew Posey's play has more in common with Quentin Tarantino than Eugene O'Neill (this is definitely not family fare).

Now it's back five years later, with Kevin Grammer assuming Posey's role as patriarch of the Bonner (pronounced ... not how you'd think it'd be) family, a clan that handles its whiskey better than its dysfunction.

And boy, is there dysfunction. For those not familiar with O'Neill's lauded play, it centers around Mary (Justin Locklear), the fragile mother of two grown sons and wife to retired actor James. Mary's been hooked on morphine for decades, but for now she's clean —or so she wants her family to believe.

Eldest boy Jamie (Mitchell Parrack) is an unemployed drunk who's likely to be found at the taverns or whorehouse, and little brother Edmund (Chris Sykes) is sickly and compliant. He has consumption, but no one wants to face it.

In Ochre House's version, Posey juxtaposes the quaint, turn-of-the-century New England setting with shockingly modern elements. It all begins with a videotaped car ride as the family heads to its summer home near the sea. Rather than record it once, Posey and crew project live from the parking lot out back, having a camera operator follow them as they arrive inside the theater and later as they individually shoot off into the night.

The innovative A/V not only helps move the plot along, but it slyly reminds us that this is not your typical play. The live band comprising Earl Norman and Bobby Fajardo off to stage right also subtly unsettles with their voyeuristic presence.

Where maid Cathleen would take Mary on a drive to settle her nerves in Long Day, with Mary then sending the girl into a pharmacy to pick up her illicit next hit, in Morphing, Mary and Bridgette (Carla Parker, combining the roles of cook and maid) still go for a drive, but the trip is a lot seedier than you'd expect. Locklear's puppetry shows up in the strangest of places, including in the form of a street-smart dealer called Rocket and later as a larger-than-life prostitute named Rosie.

That right: This play has a prostitute puppet in it. But it also has Locklear giving a tender and layered performance as Mary, his bouffant blonde wig tumbling askew as he nervously paces the living room. It's a portrayal that left its mark five years ago, and once again gets straight to the human center of this wacky ride.

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Morphing plays at Ochre House Theatre through May 21.