Last chance to see Ochre’s powerful, bleak Original Man

It seems to me that Ochre House Theatre : Matthew Posey and his creative team of writers, actors, musicians, technicians and designers have a knack (a gift really) for exploring the lives of the marginalized. The diminished. Original Man is a musical telling the story of Joe, a desperately wounded and lost man, living with his cantankerous dad. The animosity and rage between Joe and Old Joe is at the core of this drama, though each of the characters wrestles with their own misery, and each steps up to the mike to witness, with disaffected panache. Joe’s younger brother is in debt to a gangster, his girlfriends are despondent, too, and shoot smack with him. His dad and he are routinely drunk and spend gobs of time stewing in their own malaise.

Among the many things I love about Mr. Posey and his Altar of Funny, Painful Truth is the way he reveals his protagonists with all their flaws, failures and torments. And yet makes them sympathetic. The tone is suffused with black irony and pervasive disappointment, yet it feels like a strange kind of witty….what? Resignation? Defiance? Apathy? Original Man drags us into the congealed, surreal world of Joe’s metaphysical paralysis, but it’s somehow different than watching Bergman or Fassbinder or Lynch. We don’t just peek in on Joe, we participate. We see the apparition of Ray Charles that visits him, the talking stove that convinces Tilly to attempt suicide. Rather than linear plot, we look progressively deeper and deeper into Joe’s milieu and the spiritually destitute folks that he loves. They may be downtrodden and dejected but they are also unapologetic. Full of piss and vinegar.

There is a reason that Ochre House has its reputation for theatre unlike any you will find elsewhere. They are so assured and fearless and dare greatly, conjuring the abyss with energy and ghoulish humor. The songs of Original Man might be dark ballads or wry confessions or dark blue, savvy jeremiads. Posey leads us through the realm of ferocious dystopia without a blink or shudder. Like a cross between Charlie Manson and Willy Wonka. Yet it’s all so nuanced, hell, it’s downright cozy. As if we’ve been slipped a secret potion that enables us to swim The La Brea Tar Pits without harm. Ironically, the more we drink from Joe’s cup of despair, the more we love him.

Ochre House Theatre Presents Original Man, written and directed by Artistic Director, Matthew Posey. Playing October 28th-November 18th, 2017. 825 Exposition Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-826-6273. www.ochrehousetheatre.org

Last chance to see KDT’s phenomenal, profoundly moving Ironbound

Darja is a Polish immigrant working in a factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As Ironbound opens we find her arguing with her husband Tommy at a bus stop. There is a weather-beaten bench, torn posters, rough sand, broken glass, cigarette butts. The entire drama takes place at this desolate milieu, blown out and unforgiving. Darja is middle-aged, persevering, disillusioned. As she negotiates her connection to three different men, we get a sense of where her values lie, what she must do to survive, how she must be open to change. Tommy is unfaithful, another husband, Maks, is charming but violent, and a young man who helps her after she’s been beaten, Vic, is either a male prostitute, drug dealer, or both. Consistently her assumptions are challenged. Consistently she must re-evaluate.

Ironbound is simple in appearance. A gritty narrative depicting the struggles of working-class immigrants whose command of English leaves much to be desired, to subsist and find romantic companionship. But that appearance is deceptive. The longer and closer we watch, the more clearly we see that Darja’s problems are the same as anyone else’s. The disappointments, compromises, exhaustion, abuse. The trade-offs and constant need to navigate ordeals and changing circumstances. Painfully, doggedly rising every time we fall. Accepting help when independence is so crucial. Playwright Martyna Majok’s understated, ironic approach saves this play from melodrama, and ingeniously, explores the failure of The American Dream, from the eyes of those who come here to thrive and know some relief.

Most of the characters speak a kind of broken/pidgin English, and again, Majok surprises us. Though their command of speaking lacks facility and nuance, it actually explicates content. It’s amazing how much we can infer from such sparse conversation. Though we know their diction is unsophisticated, it clarifies the truth of the situation, with lyricism and grace. As the show evolves, the dialogues achieves a kind of poetry. Majok creates virtue and steps that come closer to actual meaning by using less polished English as a tool. There’s something surprisingly poignant happening when Maks sings a nightclub tune with the bravado and optimism of a striver who refuses to forfeit hope. Kitchen Dog Theater continues to find exquisite, daring, beguiling and profoundly touching shows that are quietly overwhelming and subversively resonant.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents Ironbound, playing October 26th-November 12th, 2017. 2600 North Stemmons Fwy #180, Dallas, Texas 75207. (214) 953-1055. www.kitchendogtheater.org