Dallas — The tall, balding man in a wine-red satin dressing gown sits down on his posh sofa, hesitates briefly, and pours himself a straight drink from the array of bottles and glasses on his coffee table. He knocks back his whiskey in hurried relief and picks up his cell phone. Blustering away at his agent and his manager and anybody else he can get through to, the old boy launches into "Let Me See What I Can Do," a boozy ballad about his own great talent and charm.
Meet Rudolph Raeburn (handsome Kevin Grammer, in garrulous, needy mode), former child star on a long-running TV series way back when, and now an aging alcoholic on the slide, in his career and personal life. Remember Rudy, Carla Parker's third world premiere play presented at Ochre House Theater, is part melodrama, part musical, part theater of the absurd and a totally bleak view of the aging actor as classic narcissist, blinded to the needs of all around him by his wildly inflated sense of his own attractiveness and importance.
The new play is also the bitterest view of the perils of childhood and the sacrifice of innocence in a world gone bonkers. Parker's Kaptain Kockadoo (2017) lays bare the ugly, homophobic, misogynist beneath the gold-braided uniform of a popular kid show host. Mousey (2018) brings to life an attic full of terrified, lonely and bullied toys, desperate for some sign of meaning other than rocking to a sex-crazed monkey band.
Like her earlier plays, Remember Rudy features music composed by Justin Locklear, with lyrics written by Parker to further the plot and mood. An attentive, tight, four-member band dressed to the nines, sits stage left of Matthew Posey's handsome wood paneled drawing room set, with a prominent painting of a much younger Rudy on the back wall.
In the midst of phone rejections, Rudy flashes back to his golden moment as the stage fills with the characters of the sit-com he once starred in as a boy. Sweet-faced, aproned Mother (Marti Etheridge oozing maternal love and wielding a feather duster) pats Rudy on the head and assures him that he can get the ghost detector kit he longs for. Distracted, kindly dad (blandly smiling Ben Bryant with pipe and sweater vest) is headed for the golf course, and total slut sister Sarah (leggy beauty Monet Lerner) passes out on the sofa next to him. Hmmm. This is the good old days? All join in "Rudy's Theme," a whiny-funny song in which Rudy wails plaintively, "Everybody loved me; where did I go wrong?"
As the play progresses we join in Rudy's confusion about that question. Does Rudy think his sitcom family was his real family? What happened between the "three-foot-tall" star and his dirty-legged stage sister? Under Parker's direction, songs and flashback scenes crunch together, leaving much ambiguity as to what Rudy recalls and what really happened. Plus, the set is haunted from the outset with a thin, dark-eyed young man identified in the program as Jake (a sad-eyed, hungry-looking Chris Sykes) who appears to be invisible until he addresses Rudy as "Dad." He keeps asking questions about his mother.
Jake's pitiful quest is answered with a full-cast rendition of "Don't Be Scared," the best and scariest song in the play. Bryant, now in top hat and street bum attire as the Old Ghost, tells troubled Jake he'll get used to the "hereafter," although the skeleton puppets (Locklear designed), dripping with diaphanous glowing green stuff and manipulated by Etheridge and Lerner in black suits, are hardly reassuring. By the end of the first act we need to join drunken, shaken Rudy in "One More Swig."
The upbeat theme song from the earthy Red Foxx ’70s sitcom Sanford and Son plays during intermission. Is there something to be salvaged from the junk yard of life? A two-foot turquoise Smoothie opens its toothy mouth and laughs at smashed Rudy, and we stumble with him into the absurd. We do encounter the fascinating "Pentimento Pearl," Etheridge again, shaking it all loose with a head-to-foot swirl of colored fans surrounding her sequined dress, manipulated by two people in black, the style often employed at Ochre House. Ryan Matthieu Smith's costumes cleverly define the style and era of all the characters.
The watchful band reprises "Rudy's Theme" in a spooky minor key. Rudy, reeling in self-pity and singing about it, confronts an agent, a melancholic son and an ex-wife. But what are we to make of this selfish, sad and angry old loser? The outcome is expressed in a melancholic song titled "Last Dance." Hard not to quote the master of gloom, T. S. Eliot, speaking of the way the whole shebang ends" "not with a bang, but a whimper."
Let's hear it for the brave cast and watchful musicians: Thiago Nascimento on keyboard, Lyle Hathaway on guitar, Trey Pendergrass on percussion and especially Sarah Rubio-Rogerson on cello, dramatically outfitted in black lace and grand hat, with shiny black nails glittering on the strings. That's how I'll remember Rudy.