When Ochre House founder Matthew Posey gets his teeth into something, he takes big bites. For his latest play, Cicerone, he's masticating his way through the life and loves of Tropic of Cancer author Henry Miller.
As playwright, director and star of this production, Posey gives himself the best role, playing Miller as a witty but wayward alcoholic jumping in and out of bed with a series of much younger women. For the show, the tiny Ochre House has taken on the look and stuffy atmosphere of a 1930s Paris bistro. The narrow stage is furnished with a bed and a couple of café tables, denoting the two places Miller seemed to spend most of his time. Scenes blend seamlessly through clouds of cigarette smoke (from the actors) and with plunky transition tunes from the quartet of musicians sitting at audience level below the stage.
The nearly three-hour play begins and ends with Henry talking to girlfriend Nina (Miller Pyke), a 21-year-old nymphet artist trying to get Henry dressed and out the door for a gallery show. As the play jumps around in time, Henry is visited by his estranged American wife June (Anastasia Muñoz), who drops by with her new lover, Danny (Josh Jordan). June takes a liking to the object of Henry's deep erotic obsession, French diarist Anaïs Nin (Delilah Buitrón). Blouses are doffed and Sapphic smooches are shared.
"I'm a tourist in your life," Henry complains to Anaïs. (Cicerone means "tour guide.") Actually, she's the only one of the women not willing to be a tagalong on Henry's trip. She has her own journey to travel, sexually and literarily.
If only the play were about her, not him. Buitrón, lips rouged into a pout, is an adorable Anaïs Nin, full of sensual sass.
After a string of impressive new pieces - Morphing, an expressionist take on Long Day's Journey; the designed-to-shock musical Mean about Charlie Manson; and Ex Voto, a stunning drama about the artist Frida Kahlo - Posey has grown indulgent with this latest play. He gets to surround himself with pretty, half-naked actresses and he grants himself all the good dialogue. Too much of it. Someone in Posey's Balanced Almond acting company needs to impress upon him the value of an editor.
There are good performances in the show. Kenneth L. Kemp is a leering scamp as Salvador Dali. Miller's drinking buddies George Brassai (Mitchell Parrack) and a sailor nicknamed Duke (Trenton Stephenson) are a crackerjack comedy team with too little to do in their scenes.
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The play drips with gloom, even in moments where characters should be having a good time. "Henry finds sadness in the happiest of places," says a pompous would-be poet named Baron Adolpho Groltsch (played with grouchy growls by Kevin Grammer).
Three hours of tristesse in a small, hot space. Merde.
Cicerone continues through June 9 at Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave. For tickets ($15), call 214-826-6273.