UNDER THE MOON enchants with comedy and complexity

Normally the mystery and magic of witchcraft is reserved for the month of October, but not at Ocher House Theatre, where all the performances are original and full of surprises. Written and directed by Matthew Posey, Under the Moon tells a complex story of control, captivity, fuse, conspiracy, courtship and ultimately closure at a price. That’s not to say the performance lacked hilarity and absurdity – there was plenty of both, making it the perfect way to end the fourth and final segment of the IN THE GARDEN one-act series.

Something that I find truly amazing about the Ocher House Theater is their welcoming, caring arts space. Every person I met there was genuinely kind and conversational. The theater is small but cozy, and each time I have been there they have completely transformed the space to suit the needs of the performance. They even take the time to paint the walls surrounding the stage! It’s almost impossible to match this fierce purpose and passion for the art. It’s really special, and it always adds to my immersion in the universe of the characters. The performance space envisioned by Set Designer (among many other roles) Matthew Posey and executed in collaboration with scenic artist Izk Davies did not disappoint; it was beautiful, whimsical, creative and colorful. My eyes roamed the space trying to notice every little detail. There was stationary and hanging greenery, cobwebbed book shelves, clouds, a projected moon, all surrounded by beautiful deep blue paint on the walls. Although I wasn’t sure what witchcraft I was about to encounter, I knew at least one thing – I was about to see a play like I had never seen before, thanks to Ocher House Theater and to their commitment to original and ornate art.

Intertwined with the beautiful scenic design were several spaces where the performance took place. The main part of the stage had a table and chairs, a rocking chair, and a few other portable props which became important as the action developed; this is where most of the story was told. Hanging behind the table and chairs, in plain sight, was a projection of the moon, which had a face, specifically the face of General Manager and Society member Carla Parker. As the story played out, the moon’s expressions and colors changed, allowing the audience to witness the moon’s reactions to the hilarity and horror that occurred. To the left of the main space was what appeared to be an outdoor space with a telescope, a pogo stick (the performance’s most hilarious prop), stationary plants, and a blackboard. The perfectly curated scenic properties enhanced our understanding of the characters and their complex desires, and all projections and lighting were done with purpose, thanks to the work of Kevin Grammer and Justin Locklear.

The performance started with the lights dimming until it was completely dark. We were first introduced to two of the three characters – The Lazarus and Ednocah. Matthew Posey, acting as his character The Lazarus, played this complex character well. At the start of the performance, as Ednocah sang and played his beautiful cello sounds, The Lazarus flowed to the music. This calm, collected energy was soon nowhere to be found, and audiences were introduced to its true nature – selfishness and ignorance, as it held its two “children” captive for its own personal gain. Despite his mean actions, there were several moments where Lazarus captured smiles and laughter from the audience – another example of Posey’s success in getting his character hated and loved. In this character’s attempt to woo and marry the moon, he had to perform several actions ranging from stripping to dancing to circumcision *spoiler*. Yes, you read that right, and yes, I had to cover my eyes despite Posey’s direction in keeping the impromptu procedure out of public view. With most of the craziness surrounding The Lazarus, it was nearly impossible to look away from him throughout the show. However, the story needed a character to bring serenity and calm, which Ednocah did well.

The first thing I noticed about Ednocah was his blindfold. Despite her inability to see, she produced the most beautiful sounding music I have heard in a long time. Sarah Rogerson’s ability to play the cello and sing in her soothing voice was otherworldly, which makes sense as she acts like an angel stuck in the mortal realm. Ednocah didn’t move around the performance space much, but her voice made her a focal point of the performance. Musical director and lyrical composer Sarah Rogerson set herself up for success with her musical direction, and her haunting voice was the necessary soothing melody of the piece.

Null Nath Ani, a cuckoo bird trapped in a deadly frame, entered the stage not so calmingly. The third character and second “child” of The Lazarus, Null Nath Ani, first appeared on stage running and carrying a cereal box designed as a bird’s head with a beak. Kenneth Mechler’s upbeat energy was perfect for this role; he was incredibly fun to watch. The moments I enjoyed the most during his performance were when he was cunning and cunning as he plotted against The Lazarus. Mechler’s character would sarcastically declare the opposite of his intent and quickly shake his hips back and forth. It was hilarious! Although this character had a youthful and free-spirited aura, Null Nath Ani’s desire to return to her original form was sophisticated and added to the complexity of the storyline. The three characters captured audience laughter, but they also told a story of power, captivity, and a desire for authenticity.

Each character was full of nuance, and I was immediately invested in their personalities and destinies. Most of the performance was spent getting to know the characters, the power struggles they found themselves confined in, and their hopes of finally transcending their current trappings. Then, we were suddenly provided with the closure, in which the three characters recognize and welcome their different destinies. I wish I could see more of their thought processes in those final moments of the performance. I’ve wanted resolution since the beginning of the play, but when it happened, it felt like it was over in an instant.

The costumes of the characters contributed to the plot of the show. After all, the clothes of the characters must match the complex design of the set. Samantha Rodriguez Corgan and Justin Locklear used intentional and effective costume design. Each costume (or lack thereof!) suited its character. Lazarus’ costume changed throughout the performance. He wore a long cape with a trombone wizard hat, later stripped of his underwear, and finally dressed in a wing-like robe. Null Nath Ani, a cuckoo bird at heart, hilariously wore a cereal box bird’s head at the start of the show, dressed in what appeared to be common deadly attire for most of the performance, and eventually wearing a illuminated orb to mimic the moon. Among all of these costume choices, there was one element that was Ednocah’s most intriguing headband. Ednocah wore a light-colored linen dress throughout the performance, emphasizing her blindfolded appearance. The headband reminded the audience of The Lazarus’ control, and it was a necessary reminder back when The Lazarus seemed likeable. I enjoyed how the blindfold acted as an anchor to the complex and dark reality of the situation.

Posey’s curious crafting of this tale lends itself to an important lesson: it can be difficult, and sometimes bearable, to be human. At one point in the performance, The Lazarus suggests that to be human is to be “a broken spirit, no matter how beautiful you feel.” In the midst of a busy, influenced, and recently cruel world, we often seek solace by masking our sorrows with beauty products, unattainable desires and expectations, packed calendars, photo filters, and social media posts. We are all guilty of it, but we continue to do it. Posey’s writing invites us to acknowledge this, reflect on it, and consider the authentic self that we truly want to be, despite our human suffering. The characters in this play eventually come to an end, and the audience is encouraged to think about what our own end would look like, if we all had the chance to achieve it.

In the words of Lazarus, “it is better be that of seem be.” So don’t seem be a fan of the local theatre…BE a. Go buy a ticket to Under the Moon before it’s too late. Ocher House Theater will give you an hour of laughs, gasps, grimaces and critical reflection before sending you back out into the world to continue suffering humanity. Enjoy!

Ocher House Theater May 25-28 and June 1-4. Buy your tickets through the Website of the Maison Ocre Theater. Autonomy: less than an hour. For more on the talent behind the scenes, read the digital program.

Photo credit: Justin Locklear and Jeremy Word

Sharon D. Cole