“Mixing one’s wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably.”
Ochre House Theater, Artistic Director Matt Posey and his creative team are like the experimental geneticists who gave us pluots, peacharines and cherums. The flavors are wholly original yet familiar. They are hybrids of a complex genetics that has evolved over millions of years but new at the same time. Their current production “Razz” written by Mitchell Parrack and directed by Matthew Posey plays through Nov. 16th at Ochre House Theater, 825 Exposition Ave.
The play is based on choreographer/director Bob Fosse who is the only person to win a Tony, Academy Award and Emmy in the same year. Parrack as writer of Razz gives us a work that fits perfectly in what we can loosely call the “Ochre House Canon.” It is what a continental philosopher would call “absurdist” (I’ll let the audience decide if it’s “Brechtian”) in its construction and execution. To call it a canon may be a bit of a stretch because constants in Ochre House plays are rare. If some one put a gun to my head the only thing that I could say was definitely going to be in an Ochre House play were death and sex, nothing else is guaranteed to appear or if it does be easily recognizable as such. The parts or themes or characters in this play that are seemingly incompatible fit together in a way that is both altogether human and strangely foreign at the same time, though still terribly satisfying. Mitchell Parrack as the lead character “Bob” is a more difficult thing to describe, as it’s questionable to call him “the lead” versus simply the sun around which the other planets/characters revolve. He provides a quiet intensity throughout the play, but sometimes too quiet as I wonder if the audience in the back rows could even hear all of his lines.
Beth Gilvie is luminous as Gwen. There are moments where in a flick of her gaze or an upturned lip she conveys more information and emotion than most actors can get across is a 100 line soliloquy. Chris Sykes as Bert is an absurdist delight. The fact that his character appears in a play about Bob Fosse is in and of itself a fantastic stroke of creativity, but Sykes deft maneuvering and fulfillment of the character’s potential is a standout accomplishment. Brian Witkowicz as Paddy is a comi-tragic delight. His character Paddy is based on playwright and Academy Award winning screenwriter Sidney Aaron Chayefsky, a longtime friend of Bob Fosse. He does for the play what Paddy did for Bob in their long term friendship: he is a counterweight balancing out the ephemeral or pedantic to bring out the necessary symmetry.
Elizabeth Evans as Joan was up to the task, but Lauren Massey as Ann seemed to lack confidence. I’m not wholly sure if this was a directorial choice, a result of the dramatic construction, or the actors ability.
Though there isn’t as much dancing as you’d expect in a play about Fosse, it is very much a musical, with eight original numbers written by Parrack with composition and musical direction by Justin Locklear as well as a three piece band consisting of Kate Fisher on keyboards, Gregg Pickett on guitar and Tanner Peterson on drums.
“Razz” is another Ochre House production that requires both the actors and audience to stretch themselves out, to challenge themselves and it’s part of the reason why I tend to adore their shows. They are willing to experiment in unique ways and have the talent and ability to pull it off.