Theater Review: Ochre House’s Old Gives Shut Up, Little Man! Recordings Vaudeville Treatment

Shut Up, Little Man!, a series of audio recordings of real-life alcoholic roommates Raymond and Peter, inspired Matthew Posey’s latest Ochre House experiment, Old. The cult recordings have been called “grimly fascinating” by Vanity Fair and “hilarious, but profoundly disturbing” by the Washington Post—accolades that could just as easily apply to Old. But while it’s highly entertaining to watch grumpy old men lewdly insult each other, and the vaudeville-esque hallucinations add an extra layer of interest, after a while Old begins to feel like you’re trapped in a never-ending argument.

The field recordings of the real Raymond and Peter were collected by their next-door neighbors, and here that idea is expanded to introduce us to Rupert, a suicidal young man who pretends to broadcast a late-night radio show called “The Void” from his bedroom. With an absent father and a hooker mother (the amusingly brusque Carla Parker), Rupert has plenty to be sad about, even with his loyal engineer, Marty (Dante Martinez), always by his side. Christian Taylor hides Rupert’s overwhelming pathos underneath a smooth announcer’s veneer; as the night progresses—it’s Christmas, by the way—and Rupert’s desperation grows, Taylor ups the ante with suicide attempts that are equally horrifying and ridiculous. I can honestly say that I’ve never attended a show where an actor Duct-tapes a (cleverly ventilated) plastic bag over his head and we’re then asked to direct our attention elsewhere for another scene.

Although he’s onstage the entirety of the play, we’re left wanting more from Rupert. He seems too big for this show, enough of a character and story to warrant his own vehicle. He is, after all, fighting for our attention with Justin Locklear and Matthew Posey, playing the very definition of cantankerous old coots. Their physicality and vocal inflections immediately establish characters so well drawn it’s like a punch to the gut. When the years of frustration and buried anger these two share manifests itself into an old man’s slow-motion silverware fight, it’s one of the night’s most deserving laughs.

If Old restrained itself to the verbal battles of Raymond and Pete; Rupert’s on-air unraveling; and Raymond’s drunken, hallucinated conversations with the woman he almost married (Cassie Bann, lovely in her realness), the poignancy and purpose would be easier to find. The addition of a sticky-fingered pimp and his mentally disabled cousin (Mitchell Parrack and Marti Etheridge), as well as Pete’s despondent and much younger lover (strong and silent Trey Pendergrass), dilute the story and spin it out of control.

Further hit and miss are the vaudevillian-inspired interludes. The original music by Justin Locklear and Mitchell Parrack is at times haunting and beautiful; other times it highjacks the show and bloats the action. The only time the vaudeville flavor truly surfaces is in the aforementioned exchanges between Raymond and Lois. Their smartly timed comedic back-and-forths, packed with plenty of Catskills-worthy short jokes and zingers, crystallize the idea and give it legs.

At nearly two and a half hours, Old often falls victim to its own grand ideas. But for all its shortcomings, there is indeed something grimly fascinating happening onstage at The Ochre House.