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Review: ‘Town for Sale’ at Dallas’ Ochre House is a wild, side-splitting ride

The play, by Justin Locklear, takes on the woes and charms of small-town America.

Residents of Milk Springs surround their potential savior, portrayed by Tommy Stuart, as he looks at a pitcher of their magical healing waters in Ochre House Theater's "Town for Sale." The residents are played by (from left) Lauren Massey, Meagan Harris, Elizabeth Evans, Omar Padilla, Antonio Arrebola and Carla Parker.(Kevin Grammer)

By Manuel Mendoza
10:00 AM on Feb 16, 2024

“I have the strangest feeling this isn’t real?” says a prospective buyer in Town for Sale, the latest production by Dallas’ Ochre House Theater to walk a high wire.

What is real is the way the cast launches itself full-bodied — and full-throated — into playwright Justin Locklear’s hilarious satire on the woes and charms of small-town America and the hucksters who exploit them.

Welcome to Ochre House’s singular brand of handmade theater, cramming lighthearted if pointed send-ups of late capitalism into a converted 50-seat storefront in Exposition Park.

Ochre House's Town for Sale cast
Mock-shocking scenes are found throughout Justin Locklear's "Town for Sale," a send-up of the woes and charms of small-town America, showing through March 2 at Ochre House Theater.(Samantha Rodriguez Corgan)

The appeal of the title town, Milk Springs, is its magical healing waters, the one thing left after a mining accident “nearly killed half the town,” as one character puts it. Omar Padilla, as the depressed, deadpan desk clerk of the only hotel still in operation, makes much hay — complete with graphic gestures and sound effects — of how the water fixed his bedroom issues.

As the man sent to execute the deal by the head office of a faceless corporation, Tommy Stuart anchors Town for Sale in a version of reality, at least for a time. Eventually, he too can no longer resist the circus-like atmosphere and joins in.

Donning an old-fashioned boater hat and checkered sport coat, he’s summarily rejected upon arrival. But when the townspeople mistake him for a world-traveling professor who’s been writing them encouraging letters, they turn on a dime.

Seen on opening night Wednesday, Town for Sale contains several such reversals, including a late revelation that almost explains all the absurd doings.

Locklear, Ochre House’s artist in residence, peppers the play’s physical hijinks and snappy dialogue with half a dozen production numbers, ranging from sickly sweet ballads to choral sing-alongs. Starting with a jaunty opening tune that’s half promotion, half for-sale ad, cast members throw themselves into their easily excitable characters and the ever-shifting action.

Tommy Stuart in Ochre House's Town for Sale
Tommy Stuart reads a letter his character supposedly wrote in Ochre House Theater's production of artist-in-residence Justin Locklear's "Town for Sale." (Kevin Grammer)

Town for Sale is at its most absurd when what would be considered a dream sequence in any other play arrives mid-show. In this context, it’s an extension of Locklear and Ochre House’s madcap style.

Played by Lauren Massey, Grace, the hotel owner, is the only character besides the buyer/professor with both feet on the ground. Less rooted are the townspeople portrayed by Padilla, Carla Parker, Meagan Harris, Elizabeth Evans and Antonio Arrebola, who also plays a box drum. Gregg Prickett accompanies the songs on acoustic guitar, sometimes with Harris on bass.

Ochre House artistic director Matthew Posey’s colorfully painted set depicts the hotel lobby. A moveable picket fence is the linchpin. Costumes by Samantha Rodriguez Corgan are eclectic and rustic.

All the audience can do is hang on as Town for Sale takes it on a side-splitting carnival ride.



Through March 2 at 825 Exposition Ave., Dallas. $12-$25. Pay what you can on Feb. 19.

Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and a former staff critic at The Dallas Morning News.