We are thrust into a city besieged by military conquest. Explosions, gunfire, the kind of public announcement, propaganda broadcasts you might expect in Communist China. Resistance is pointless. Reject Western Decadence. Submit to the regime. The milieu is deepened and expanded by vistas projected on either side of the performance space. Surroundings are mostly demolished, dystopian, collapsing. We might be in the Ukraine or some Slovakian location. Natasha (Carla Parker) appears, dressed plainly with black face marks to help her hide. Sergei’s (Brian Witkowickz) stealthy approach startles her. She is terrified, before she realizes it’s her husband. Once they recognize each other, they embrace, relieved and elated. Like her, he wears a dark green coat, and bears the signs of exhaustion that come with constantly being on guard. They huddle, seeking something like refuge. Vigilant against possible attack. Not long after Kiki (Quinn Coffman) appears. We presently discover that she is, indeed, their daughter.
Part of their one-act, In the Garden series, Ochre Houses’s Futile Roses creates a lens, a few moments to focus and consider the atrocities happening as we speak. In another part of the world, yet intimate as television. The onslaught of carnage, annihilation, the details of genocide so overwhelming, it seems impossible to process. If nearly too apparent to mention, it’s nonetheless crucial to point out that Ochre House is providing context for events, we never imagined we’d see again. At least, not in our lifetime. The dubious election of a despot. The inexplicable charisma he holds over the uneducated and ambitious. His criminal negligence in the face of misery and rampant disease. His attempt to thwart Democracy by coup. Now ruthless conquest by another tyrant, and his brother under the skin. Comparisons to other times and places seem inescapable. To quote the great philosopher: Shirley Bassey (and The Propellerheads) It’s all just ...history repeating.
Written and directed by Kevin Grammer, Futile Roses captures the experience and mercilessness of war. The sudden, catastrophic and arrogant dehumanization of other cultures, for the sake of acquisition and expediency. The families, children, parents, grandparents. The elderly and disabled, all brushed aside, in a particularly vicious kind of metaphysical cannibalism. Mr. Grammer’s script is meticulous, observant and impressive, kindling warmth and empathy. The mother’s outburst of frustration and utter despair. The cynicism the daughter acquires, lest she go to pieces. The mischievous (if harsh) game that husband and wife play, a side affect of brutal change of circumstances. What we lose. What we clutch. What we accept. What we won’t. It is pretty much the stuff of fledgling writers that profoundly disturbing content must be presented with discretion and understatement. That is to say: a melting snowflake is a tragedy, a flood, commonplace. Mr Grammer has achieved this key distinction to powerful effect. He has explored his subject with clarity and somber wisdom.
Ochre House presented Futile Roses from April 20th-30th. It closed April 30th, 2022. 526 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-862-2723. www.ochrehousetheatre.org