Review: UNDER THE MOON Enchants with Comedy and ComplexityOchre House Theater’s final installation of their IN THE GARDEN series is whimsical, wily, and wonderful. May 25-May 28 and June 1-June 4. Go see Under the Moon before it’s too late!
by Emily Short June 2, 2022
Normally the mystery and magic of wizardry is reserved for the month of October, but not at Ochre House Theater, where all performances are original and full of surprises. Written and directed by Matthew Posey, Under the Moon tells a complex tale of control, captivity, cahoots, conspiracy, courtship, and eventually closure at a cost. This is not to say the performance lacked hilarity and absurdity-there was plenty of both, making this the perfect way to close the fourth and final segment of the IN THE GARDEN one-act play series.
Something I find truly incredible about Ochre House Theater is their welcoming, thoughtful, artistic space. Every person I have met there has been authentically kind and conversational. The theater is small yet cozy, and each time I have visited they have completely transformed the space to fit the needs of the performance. They even take the time to paint the walls surrounding the stage! It's nearly impossible to match this fierce purpose and passion for art. It's truly special, and it always adds to my immersion into the world of the characters. The performance space envisioned by Set Designer (among many other roles) Matthew Posey and collaboratively executed with Scenic Artist Izk Davies did not disappoint; it was beautiful, whimsical, creative, and colorful. My eyes were darting all over the space in an attempt to notice each small detail. There was stationary and suspended greenery, cobwebbed book shelves, clouds, a projected moon, all surrounded by a beautiful and deep blue paint on the walls. Despite being unsure of the wizardry I was about to encounter, I knew at least one thing for sure-I was about to see a play unlike any I had seen before, courtesy of Ochre House Theater and their commitment to original, ornate art.
Entwined with the gorgeous scenic design, there were multiple spaces where the performance took place. The main part of the stage had a table and chairs, a rocking chair, and some other handheld props that became important as the action developed; this is where most of the story was told. Suspended behind the table and chairs, hanging high for all to see, was a projection of the moon, who had a face, specifically the face of Managing Director and Company Member Carla Parker. As the story was performed, the moon's expressions and colors changed, allowing the audience to witness the moon's reactions to the hilarity and horror that occurred. To the left of the main space was what seemed to be an outdoor area with a telescope, a pogo stick (the most hilarious prop in the performance), stationary plants, and a chalkboard. The perfectly curated stage properties were effective in enhancing our understanding of the characters and their complex desires, and all projections and lighting was done with purpose, thanks to the work of Kevin Grammer and Justin Locklear.
The performance began with the lights dimming until it was completely dark. We were first introduced to two of the three characters-The Lazarus and Ednocah. Matthew Posey, acting as his character The Lazarus, played this complex character well. At the start of the performance, as Ednocah sang and played her gorgeous sounds on the cello, The Lazarus flowed to the music. This calm, collected energy was soon nowhere to be found, and the audience was introduced to his true nature-selfishness and ignorance, as he held his two "children" captive for his own personal gain. Despite his villainous actions, there were multiple moments The Lazarus captured smiles and laughs from the audience-another example of Posey's success in making the audience hate and love his character. In this character's attempt to court and marry the moon, he was required to perform multiple actions from disrobing, to dancing, to *spoiler* circumcision. Yes, you read that right, and yes, I had to cover my eyes despite Posey's direction keeping the impromptu procedure out of the audience's view. With most of the craziness surrounding The Lazarus, it was almost impossible to look away from him throughout the show. However, the story needed a character to provide serenity and calm, which Ednocah did well.
The first thing I noticed about Ednocah was her blindfold. Despite being unable to see, she produced the most beautiful sounding music I had heard in a long time. Sarah Rogerson's ability to play the cello and sing in her soothing voice was otherworldly, which makes sense because she is acting as an angel stuck in the mortal realm. Ednocah didn't move around the performance space much, yet her voice made her a focal point of the performance. Music Director and Lyric Composer Sarah Rogerson set herself up for success with her music direction, and her entrancing voice was the necessary soothing melody of the play.
Entering the stage not-so-soothingly was Null Nath Ani, a cuckoo bird trapped in a mortal frame. The third character and second "child" of The Lazarus, Null Nath Ani, first appeared on stage running around and wearing a cereal box crafted as a bird's head with a beak. Kenneth Mechler's upbeat energy was perfect for this role; he was incredibly fun to watch. The moments I enjoyed most during his performance were when he was being wily and cunning as he plotted against The Lazarus. Mechler's character would ironically state the opposite of his intent and swiftly shake his hips back-and-forth. It was hilarious! Although this character had a free-spirited, youthful aura about him, Null Nath Ani's longing to return to his original form was sophisticated, and it added to the complexity of the storyline. All three characters captured laughs from the audience, but they also told a story of power, captivity, and longing for authenticity.
Each character was full of nuance, and I was immediately invested in their personalities and fates. Most of the performance was spent getting to know the characters, the power struggles they found themselves confined within, and their hopes to eventually transcend their current entrapments. Then, we were suddenly provided closure, in which the three characters acknowledge and welcome their various fates. I do wish I was able to see more of their thought processes in those last moments of the performance. I was longing for a resolution from the beginning of the play, but when it happened, it felt like it was over in an instant.
Contributing to the intrigue of the show were the characters' costumes. After all, the characters' clothing must match the intricate design of the set. Samantha Rodriguez Corgan and Justin Locklear used intentional and effective costume design. Each costume (or lack thereof!) suited its character. The Lazarus's costume shifted throughout the performance. He wore a long cloak with a trombone wizard hat, later stripped down to his undergarments, and eventually redressed in a robe resembling wings. Null Nath Ani, a cuckoo bird at heart, hilariously wore a cereal box bird head at the beginning of the show, clothed in what seemed to be common mortal garb for most of the performance, and eventually wearing an illuminated orb to imitate the moon. Among all of these costume choices, there was one element that was most intriguing-Ednocah's blindfold. Ednocah wore a light-colored linen dress for the entirety of the performance, making the focus her blindfold. The blindfold acted as a reminder to the audience of The Lazarus's control, and it was a necessary reminder at the times when The Lazarus seemed likable. I appreciated how the blindfold acted as an anchor to the complex, grim reality of the situation.
Posey's curious crafting of this tale lends itself to an important lesson-it can be difficult, and sometimes sufferable, to be human. At one moment in the performance, The Lazarus suggests that being human is to be "a broken spirit, no matter how beautiful you feel." In the midst of a busy, influenced, as-of-late cruel world, we often seek comfort by masking our sorrows with beauty products, unattainable desires and expectations, jam-packed calendars, photo filters, and social media posts. We are all guilty of this, yet we continue to do it. Posey's writing invites us to acknowledge this, think about it, and consider the authentic selves we truly want to be, despite our human suffering. The characters in this play eventually find closure, and the audience is encouraged to consider what our own closure would look like, if we all had the chance to achieve it.
In the words of The Lazarus, "it is better to be than to seem to be." So, don't seem to be a fan of local theater...BE one. Go buy a ticket to Under the Moon before it's too late. Ochre House Theater will give you an hour of laughs, gasps, cringes, and critical thinking before they send you back into the world to continue suffering humanity. Enjoy!
Ochre House Theater May 25-28 and June 1-4. Purchase tickets through the Ochre House Theater website. Run time: less than one hour. For more information about the talent behind the scenes, read the digital program.
Photo Credit: Justin Locklear & Jeremy Word