Dallas — “There are going to be a lot of feelings felt this summer,” declares Rosie the barkeep (Dante Martinez). He delivers these auspicious words from behind the bar (where often the truest words emanate) and they open Matthew Posey’s latest bizarre offering of brilliance at Ochre House, Christhelmet.
Posey also directs and stars in this original play (billed as a “dark comedy”) with his typical creative panache that incorporates musical numbers with clever wordplay and off-kilter characterizations. As strong as nearly every one of Posey’s works are, they sometimes suffer from a bit of extra theatrical fat, but that is not the case here. Christhelmet is a punchy, note-perfect two hours of boozy bliss.
All of the action takes place in an L.A. bar called “The Drawing Room,” and the story (very loosely) follows a collection of regulars who taunt, cajole, and castigate each other (lovingly?). Think more Steve Buscemi’s 1996 Trees Lounge as opposed to Cheers. The “low-dive bar” is a gray and dingy affair (set design by Posey, Justin Locklear, and Mitchell Parrack) that ingeniously folds down and opens up to reveal a painted backdrop (Isaac Davies).
Martinez (the hilarious deadpan straight man here) as Rosie runs the “dead cop’s bar” while trying to reel in the rowdies. Posey is the eponymous Athalgarde Christhelmet, half bar enforcer and half visionary. His trippy “White Window” song marks his second half transformation into a remorseful yet crazed John the Baptist screaming prophecies in the wasteland. Marti Etheridge Schweitzer plays Donna Mañana, a pregnant woman who may still be in a relationship with Christhelmet but seems mostly content to nurse her wine from afar, and although she may have “danger in her manger” she avers in her song (best voice in the cast), “I Got This.”
Kevin Grammer as the hospital-gowned Arnie who struggles with the bottle but sings the song, “Whiskey is My Jesus” is a near-naked delight and his daughter, Chelsin Biglio (Cassie Bann in the performance reviewed) is a lil’ ball bustin’ vision of hard-edged pain with her song, “Good Lord’s Collision.” Carla Parker in full foul-mouthed fury plays Mary Tonto, a dog butt dirty and smelly outcast amongst the outcasts who can still call down the rain.
Horsy John (Parrack) has some of the best lines in the show and he delivers them with spot-on sardonic bile: “The vodka curtain fell down sooner than I thought,” and “a man needs his drinkin’ money.” His blues rocky number with lyrics like, “Damn the Sobriety” should be a hit on late-night radio.
Karl (Bryce Jensen) is a 72-year-old hunchback and consumer of Rob Roy cocktails who is searching for his erstwhile lover François. Jensen is all jittery goodness and a standout character on a stage full of them. Even his “worst Judy Garland impression” is guilty pleasure good.
The live music in the show is all sonic joy with original lyrics by Parrack and Posey, musical direction and guitar by Deanna Valone, Stefan Gonzalez on congas and vibraphones, Trey Pendergrass on keyboard and drums, and original music by Gonzalez, Pendergrass and Valone.
Notable songs not already mentioned, although they are all fantastic, are the drunken and debauched opener “4 Whores and 7 Beers Ago,” and “Lips That Touch Liquor.”
There are quite a few mentions of good and bad “jubjub” in the play and Posey’s character intones, “Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!" a short bit from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Christhelmet, like Carroll’s nonsense verse, is full of whimsy, delicious confusion, and lyrical pleasure.
Anyway, that’s the feeling I’m feeling this summer.