Theater Review: ‘Rot’ takes fresh look at life

Writer/Director and UH Creative Writing professor John Harvey, in collaboration with Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company and Bobbindoctrin, is on tour with the original stage play Rot.

The play offers a look into the troubled life of a family ravaged by poverty, disease, despair and controversy, in which the members are individually on a quest for happiness. The action of the play moves under the watchful eyes of two "otherworldly beings" that happen to sit in the family’s living room.

Anne (Jennifer Decker) is a troubled girl who leaves her parents’ house for some time to return and find her family living in squalor. Her father Earl (Eric Doss) is suffering from the plague and her mother Barbara (Patricia Duran) is taking care of him. She is curious about the whereabouts of her dog, and is eventually shocked by her discovery of a family secret.

Barbara seems slightly psychotic. She takes care of her husband but is very mean and physically abuses him. She is jealous of Anne’s relationship with the couple’s son (who never appears in the play). A terrible secret is revealed concerning his ultimate demise.

Earl suffers from the plague, which seems to have driven him slightly insane. He appears to yearn for death. Edmund (Wes Copeland) and Edgar (Joel Orr) are two gentlemen who watch the action of the play while sitting in the family’s living room. They ponder the search for happiness while discussing such things as a murder-suicide in a family and the dissection of a fetal pig.

The set, costumes and atmosphere of the play adequately emphasize the theme. In the family’s house, the chairs and tables are dilapidated, windows decaying and vomit seems to be everywhere. Costumes are similarly well worn and pests lurk about, further evoking the family’s desperate state.

Bobbindoctrin, the puppet theater company that collaborated with Mildred’s Umbrella, did a good job handling the puppets during the play. The puppets helped to reveal the inner thoughts of the characters and advance the audiences’ understanding of the revelation of family secrets.

Decker brilliantly plays the role of Anne. She portrays the anguish of a girl laden with a huge, terrible family secret and the desire to uncover the whereabouts of a lost but beloved pet, while trying to reunite with her family.

Duran plays Barbara who excellently depicts a wicked wife and mother who seeks her own selfish desires.

Doss is very believable playing a sick, suffering man who seems to have been driven to near insanity by the plague and an almost unbearable family life.

Orr and Schulze interestingly played Edgar and Edmund and are also very capable puppeteers.

Harvey says that the play’s theme centers on the members of a family in their individual quest for happiness.

"The search for happiness… for the family with Barbara, Earl and Anne, that which will allow them to be individuals, separate from the family, but they can never completely detach themselves from the family."

This play is a lavish though tragic display of metaphor, irony and suspense that should not be missed.

Rot, which originally debuted in Houston in February 2007, was presented at the University of Houston’s Jose Quintero Theater or will be presented at Galveston’s Strand Theatre on Saturday and Sunday.

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