Ochre House Theatre's new play 'Mrs. Haggardly' deconstructs war and invites you to question it all
“Mrs. Haggardly’s Home for Wayward Children” is an orphanage that sits on the outskirts of the Great Brutal War, and each day the drums of war draw closer…
When I first read the description for Ochre House Theatre’s new play, MRS HAGGARDLY, a lot of questions came up for me. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to some of our contemporary world issues, and I felt an excitement to learn more about the story.
MRS HAGGARDLY, written and directed by Matthew Posey, opening on February 8, is no exception. On Ochre House Theatre’s website, the story is described as:
“Mrs. Haggardly and her two companions, Madame Pigslips and Mrs. Busybottom, are the matrons of the orphanage who cunningly use their wiles to resist the pillaging fascists who have come to recruit the orphans for soldiers. In this world of war, Mrs. Haggardly and her companions rise to the challenge to feed, clothe, and protect the orphans.”
With Ochre House Theatre, Artistic Director Matthew Posey has established a mainstay in the Dallas theatre community. For eleven years, he and his company of talented theatre makers and musicians have developed a process of storytelling that disregards and even confronts the standards of traditional storytelling.
Posey shared that Ochre House Theatre was started as a way to create theatre in a fun and innovative way. Inspired by The Wooster Group in New York, he wanted to create a similar style of working with his own company in Dallas – a theatrical process that deconstructs the traditional forms of storytelling. Posey described it as, “styles of deconstruction, which is basically exploding icons and themes to a very basic and human level.”
He continued by sharing that Ochre House only produces original work because “ It's basically the idea of breaking form. We're trying to break away from form to really find that unique voice. And that is a journey in and of itself.”
And while the process at Ochre House is one of deconstruction, the stories have a strong foundation. Posey described the writing process as “the swarm” – start with the idea of the story you want to tell, and free-associate the ideas as they come to you, without judgement or editing of the ideas. For the first six years at Ochre House, Posey wrote all of the plays. Then, he added playwrights to the company. With a master’s degree in Writing and Directing and 40 years of theatrical experience, Posey acts as a mentor to the younger playwrights in the company. He helps to shape and editorialize the ideas, using Goethe’s guidelines as his compass: What is the artist trying to do? How are they doing it? Is it worth doing?
So how does Ochre House Theatre’s new story, MRS HAGGARDLY, accomplish those questions? Given the description of the play, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to things happening in our own country and even in the state of Texas. But, as art is subjective, it’s easy to view it through a personal lens. I didn’t want to draw conclusions about the project or misrepresent it. At the same time, in a story about war it’s important to investigate the themes presented.
The themes in MRS HAGGARDLY sound layered and thoughtful. For Posey and his company of theatrical provocateurs, questions and diversity of thought are encouraged. As Posey told me, ”Whenever you’re able to present a story where each and every individual member walks away with a different take, a different view, a different feeling - as opposed to being spoon fed what it’s about - that’s where the story shines. We really like to put the questions in the audience's lap.”
Still, Posey admitted that MRS HAGGARDLY did begin with “that kernel of an idea because I had noticed that in warfare these days, a lot of times, the children are being indoctrinated. Everyone has a sense of terrorism, of being a terrorist, and one of those terrorist aspects is indoctrinating children to do the dirty work. War does feed off the youth. The most effective war campaigns and the most brutal war campaigns usually start with the kind of genocide where you’ve killed the youth so there's no future. You bomb their schools so there's no education. You bomb their hospitals so that it breaks their spirit. So, I think that by proxy, MRS HAGGARDLY is going to touch upon those things.”
But this story about war isn’t without hope. Posey shared that part of his “swarm” when he began writing MRS HAGGARDLY dealt with the effects of social media on our society. This play doesn’t deal with social media, but Posey spoke to a disassociation, a separation, and a lack of human contact that has come out of our dependence on the internet. He added, “The reason why I bring up [issues with social media] is because of the anesthetizing and the de-sensitizing of the human spirit. A lot of times, that’s how war is successful. So, I think [the play] is provocative especially in terms of the madams and the interesting orphans that we've got in the story. They're all damaged in their own way. And it's how they deal with being damaged -- the humanness, the hope, and the bravery. I think everyone has a consciousness in terms of what is right fundamentally and what is wrong, regardless of the politics, regardless of affiliation. And MRS HAGGARDLY speaks to that. MRS HAGGARDLY is a story of love in time of war. There’s love on all levels, but it's mainly how these misfits - these orphans and even the madams - fit in the larger scheme of an uncaring world. And how they find their own home. That’s probably one of the most universal stories you can tell.”
MRS HAGGARDLY, Written and Directed by Artistic Director Matthew Posey, opens at Ochre House Theatre on February 8 with performances through February 29 at 825 Exposition Ave. Dallas, TX 75226. Performances are Wednesday – Saturday at 8:15 pm, with a special “Donate-What-You-Can” Night on Monday, February 17, 2020.
For tickets, visit www.ochrehousetheater.org or call (214) 826-6273.