Oh Dad, Poor Dad: Freudian farce lights up Annex Theatre - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Oh Dad, Poor Dad: Freudian farce lights up Annex Theatre

Sarah Heiderman and Rjyan Kidwell star at Annex Theatre. (Kelli Williams)

Two things should be noted about last Friday’s performance of an odd little play at The Station North Chicken Box. First: the house was packed to the gills – which speaks volumes about the quality of the current production. Second: the house was packed to the gills – and that may have been the only thing that prevented the audience from literally rolling in the aisles while laughing out loud.

Such was the reaction to Annex Theatre’s presentation of Arthur Kopit’s Kennedy-era spoof of Freudian modernist theatre, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You In The Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad.Oh Dad flyer

Deftly directed by Mason Ross, Oh Dad, Poor Dad… takes an outrageous storyline, then – over the course of three scenes – builds one bizarre sequence on top of another. Kopit – a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist – won the Vernon Rice Award (now known as the Drama Desk Award) for Oh Dad, Poor Dad…

The play opens with four Kafka-esque bellhops preparing a chintzy room for the arrival of a demented dowager and her social outcast of a son. The widow (Madame Rosepettle) has just arrived in Port Royal on a mourning tour of the Carribean. Along with her son (who is traveling with a carton of books, his rare coins and a stamp collection), Madame Rosepettle has packed a silver piranha, her Venus flytraps and a Dictaphone. She has also brought along her late husband Albert, whose remains have been preserved – not by a competent mortician – but by a talented taxidermist.

Madame Rosepettle immediately begins barking disparate orders in a tone which would make Captain Bly proud.

When the tepid lieutenant of the bellboys asks, “Will there be something else?”, Madame replies, “Of course there will be something else! That’s the problem with life.”

The acerbic widow then tips the bellhops with change lifted from her son’s rare coin collection; discarding a 1962 dime, but including an obscure 1532 Japanese coin which she later admits she actually made herself.

Rosepettle saves the worst for her longsuffering son Jonathan, a young man who she claims only arrived – already teething – after a twelve month gestation.

Left alone to feed the Venus flytraps (because mother says it is his vocation and it gives him a sense of acceptance), Jonathan catches the eye of a flirtatious island girl named Rosalie. Their love, however, seems doomed from the start, as Jonathan’s mother insists he is susceptible to “sunstroke, trees, and sluts”.

Meanwhile Madame sets her sights on the rich, but boorish, Commodore Roseabove. The interplay between these two couples fills out the rest of the hullabaloo, with the bellhops and Albert dropping in here and there to enjoy the farcical fun.

Pulling off such nonsense is a deceptively difficult task. Luckily, director Ross has assembled a top-notch cast.

(Kelli Williams)

Sarah Heiderman and Rjyan Kidwell. (Kelli Williams)

Sarah Heiderman plays Madame Rosepettle with a delicious mix of Norma Desmond and Mommy Dearest. Heiderman sparkles in what could easily come across as a hateful role – no easy feat for any actor. Rosepettle’s supercilious soliloquy is mostly a self-justifying rant, and Heiderman milks that frightened cow for all it’s worth.

Rjyan Kidwell, in dual roles as the bellboy lieutenant and as Commodore Roseabove, does a lot of little things right, particularly producing a decidedly vague European accent, and looking completely lost once Madame launches into her meandering monologue.

As the teasing island tart, Allyson Washington plays Rosalie’s naughty native with convincing, copulating charm. Who knew Baby Snooks could be so brazen? Kathy Carson and Ty Agatstein both do a fine job with their respective turns as persevering bellboys.

Fully describing Martin Kasey’s inept Jonathan may require a new entry in your Funk and Wagnall’s. His nervous eye-rolls alone are worth the price of admission. Suffice it to say, Kasey delivers a captivatingly comedic performance which at times is comparable to witnessing a train wreck. No matter how hard you try to look away, you find your eyes returning to the horrific, hysterical scene.

On the creative side, set designer Mason Ross gives the cast plenty of garish room to exercise the unfolding folderol.

Mika Eubanks’ costumes (especially those designed for the principal players) worked pretty well. One critical note: it might make more sense to pin the tails of the bellhops’ tunics up and under the back.

Both the drum-heavy sound design (Patrick McMinn) and the mellow lighting (Evan Mortiz) add a nice air to the island hotel vista.

A special tip of the insect jar to Venus flytrap puppet designer Susan MacCorkle.

Admittedly, absurdist humor is not for everyone. But if you suspend disbelief for ninety minutes and just sit back and listen, Oh Dad, Poor Dad… will deliver more belly laughs than a beach full of canoodling couples.

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The Annex Theatre production of Oh Dad, Poor Dad… runs Thursday through Sunday, now – April 12 at The Station North Chicken Box: 1 West North Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland. Running time for the show is 90 minutes with no intermission. On street parking is available in the Station North area. For more information, visit Annex Theatre online.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at the Washington Herald, and Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, SmartCEO, Magic Octopus Magazine, Destination Maryland, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.