Kaptain Kockadoo takes place on the set of a children’s show, with more than a passing resemblance to the popular Kaptain Kangaroo. Like so many others, the Captain was an integral part of my childhood, with Mr. Green Jeans, Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, et al. Leave it to Ochre House and playwright Carla Parker to turn this milieu to their own dark, satirical purposes. If we think of early children’s programming (Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Mr. Peppermint) as friendly, gentle indoctrination intended to convey the value of kind and responsible behavior, then perhaps it doesn’t seem like a reach. If we add that Kaptain Kockadoo is Mormon (or some other polygamous religion) and that his and Uncle Willie’s wives are characters and musicians for the production, it then becomes a metaphor for oppression, misogyny and the pervasive arrogance of numerous organized religions.
As we might expect, Kaptain Kockadoo is chock full of spirited songs, puppetry, life lessons, homilies and enigmatic elements. Uncle Cat seems to be a shadow entity with some hold on Kaptain Kockadoo and a mysterious sequence featuring luminous fingers suggest unseen forces at work. At first it all feels fairly harmless. Charitable, goofy and filled with those playful touches like a milkman offering crazy flavors and a talking tree with children’s letters hanging from it’s boughs. As the show continues though, the Captain grows more and more petulant. Like an infantile tyrant. He weaves bizarre theological imagery into the proceedings and progressively exerts dominance and pathological contempt towards his wives: Annabelle Anne, Farah Sue and “Peanuts.” As the women break ranks and assert insubordination Kaptain K gets increasingly testy.
Parker is sly and assured in the way she depicts the subversive nature of male leverage and the subtle manipulation of imperialist religious doctrine. That these ideas and attitudes are hidden in the context of a show for kids, of course, just makes it all the more queasy. When we’re submerged in particular beliefs for weeks, months, years, they no longer appear on our radar. The effect can be poisonous and insidious. We participate without understanding because we don’t grasp the underpinnings. The assumptions. Carla Parker’s Kaptain Kockadoo is disturbing, cynical, scary, as if someone slipped psychotropics into our Ovaltine. It’s a powerful piece. Brilliant and enervating. Sharp and courageous.
Ochre House Theater presents Kaptain Kockadoo, playing August 19th-September 9th, 2017. 825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-826-6273. www.ochrehousetheater.org