Marigold, a moving 50-minute two-character play about a death in the family, written and directed by Carla Parker, is the first in a series of one-act plays at Ochre House Theatre, a Dallas company producing original work for over three decades.
And what a first-rate first! The company’s In the Garden series promises four new one-act plays in four months, produced live on their intimate Deep Ellum stage, and also available virtually on the Ochre House YouTube channel.
The title character’s name is engraved on a tombstone featured prominently in the autumnal cemetery setting designed by Matthew Posey. A pensive, contained young woman (Marti Etheridge) places fresh yellow marigolds in an urn, sweeps away fallen leaves, and puts candy corn and other treats at the tombstone’s base. While she collects her stuff and sits down on the stone bench, we have time to read the sentimental verse and calculate that Marigold was about 50 when she died. Crape Myrtle (Etheridge) has come to visit her beloved sister near the date she died.
When sullen and combative Zena Zoe (Delilah Buitrón Arrebola) shows up, we learn quickly that she is Marigold’s widowed wife, bearing not only her own grief but the communal condemnation of lesbian love in the small town where they grew up—and in particular, the wrath of the “Second Southern Baptist Church” they all once attended. Zena takes a swig from her pocket flask and puts a big bowl of mac n’ cheese on her late wife’s grave. Marigold was fat, and so what, and to hell with her “narrow-minded mother” and the old woman’s noxious notion of what a daughter must be.
The power of Parker’s play—and her thoughtfully paced direction—is in the juxtaposition of two familiar responses to loss. Does a family member’s death bring us closer together, or stir up strife over old slights? Myrtle’s attempts to reconcile sad, angry Zena with her own family and with Marigold’s grieving mother is especially touching when Myrtle recalls a childhood game she played with her sister; she’s hoping to persuade an unforgiving Zena to at least consider meeting up in church on Wednesday. Both actors brought me to tears in this sweet, silly scene.
One of the many delights of live performance is the immediacy of our response to the people right in front of us. Here, Etheridge and Arrebola embody characters sharing a deep grief for the same woman. We pity them both, but “what next?” as Myrtle asks the silent tombstone.
The short play offers a kind of resolution in its final scene. Do we shrug and turn away? Do we gather at the river? Do we write songs? Or plays?
Josh D. Jordan is the film director, and Kevin Grammer designed the lighting. Special shout out to scenic artist Izk Davies, who created the realistic brick design on the wall behind the garden, and the huge fairy tale-style tree from twisted paper and cardboard, a work of art in itself.
WHEN: Closed February 26
WHERE: Ochre House Theatre, 825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas
WEB: Upcoming works from the In The Garden series will be announced soon. For more information, visit https://www.ochrehousetheater.org/