Dallas — A brightly decorated Gypsy wagon fills the playing space of the tiny Ochre House Theatre. The imposing trees on one side are somehow mirrored perfectly by the double decker band of musicians bedecked in traditional Romanian garb. This is Dr. Bobaganush, another fantastical incarnation of the theatrical mind of Matthew Posey who wrote, directed and plays the title character. Though the boundaries between art and life are often blurred at Ochre House Theatre, this one is downright eerie.
The play, Dr. Bobaganush, begins with a show performed by the title character, his wife, Madame Bobaganush (Marti Etheridge), his father, Boobi (Chris Sykes), and his son, Peter (Christian Taylor). This performing troupe survives on their song, dance and fantastical display. They fight the encroaching gloom with creativity. In this way, they’re not unlike the Ochre House Theatre itself. The subtitle of the play is “These are Dark Times.” Indeed, on the original opening night on Jan. 28, the pre-show audience was abuzz about the immigrants detained at DFW airport. As the show progressed, the plotline became uncomfortably prescient concerning Hitler’s growing power and persecution.
No one would have guessed that this play about encroaching violence would have its run postponed when the writer/director/leading man would himself be victim of violence with gunshots to the face and leg. His grand entrance during the remount was just as triumphant and emotional as you can imagine.
It would be a mischaracterization, though to call this a drama. It is irreverent to the core. The two Nazi characters, Frau Kina Hora (Carla Parker) and Herr Lipschitz (Mitchell Parrack) are broad caricatures. The Little Red Riding Hood meets Anne Frank ingénue, Anne (Elizabeth Evans), is more about sass than sympathy. Her Parents, Mr. Van Daan (Kevin Grammer) and Mrs. Van Daan (Cassie Bann), are also lost in the forest after losing everything, but spend most of their time bickering. It’s all just this side of a Carol Burnett sketch, complete with silly accents and outrageously incongruous shout-outs. The Bobaganush’s prayer is a brisk mumbling of the “Cheeburger, Cheeburger, Cheeburger” refrain from the famous SNL sketch.
Against the tide of comedic reverie are the plot implications of Hitler coming to power. The Jewish Van Daans are attempting to escape through the forbidding Romanian Forest, for instance. Knowing what we know now, Dr. Bobaganush’s reassurances to his wife seem especially foolhardy. Though, he couldn’t know the future, we know the past. As such, there’s great tension beneath the action onstage no matter how silly or strange. The Gypsy-inspired music encapsulates the combination beautifully. Earl Norman has weaved a strong sense of sorrow in his musical compositions even though Posey and Parrack have penned lyrics that run the gamut, but hover mostly around, “When the Third Reich Just Ain’t Right.” The music and Norman’s band as a whole are enough reason to claim one of the 50 seats.
The bread and butter of the show are the committed performances. Foremost is the father of the feast, Matthew Posey. His Dr. Bobaganush would be imposing even without the giant platform shoes that he somehow manages to dance in. Marti Etheridge is his Ginger Rogers doing everything he does, but backward and in heels. Together they create a sort of Romanian Honeymooners with the same tension, humor and love. Rounding out the family, Chris Sykes brings a spry impishness to the Uncle Fester-type creepy relative, Boobi. On the other end of the spectrum is the touchingly simple performance of Peter by Christian Taylor. Played from in a barrel mostly, he does it almost entirely through voice and eyebrows. Cassie Bann plays straight woman to Kevin Grammer’s unbelievably accented Mr. Van Daan. Elizabeth Evans strays into similarly rocky water accent wise, but her singing voice rivals Etheridge. The comedic duo of Carla Parker and Mitchell Parrack almost steal the show with their extra absurd Nazi duo. In the pursuit of absurdity, Parrack rivals Sykes’ reckless comedic commitment.
The end of the show achieves the resolution of the tension between the silliness of their antics and the seriousness of what we know from history. As soon as the characters’ futures are secured, we are pointedly forced to wonder about our own. Are we any less silly doing as we do? Are we any less doomed?