You gotta hand it to Ron Sossi, either he takes you down an old familiar road in a manner that makes it seem utterly alien (such as his revisionist re-interpretations of “Rhinoceros” and the plays of Alan Ayckbourn), or he leads you down a twisting primrose path to some strange destination with the tendency of being somewhat unsettling and defiantly oblique.

With Tadeusz Różewicz’s “White Marriage” Mr. Sossi manages to take his audience precisely where you’d expect a Polish absurdist erotic Freudian fable to go. No small feat that.

The play opens on two sisters, Bianca (Kate Dalton) and the younger Pauline (Emily Gross). They are in bed, speaking of those things young girls will when adults slumber and the world is dark. Following that opening are a series of characters unburdening themselves in the confessional booth. None receive absolution.

That seems to be where “White Marriage” exists, in that void between foolish innocence and the sins of the flesh that are never forgiven. Perhaps we are meant to heed the playwright’s warning, “Those who stop half way, go to hell.”

The focus of the play is on the upcoming nuptials of Bianca and Benjamin (Austin Rogers) whose youth still confines him to speaking of physical love only in the disguise of bad poetry. As preparations for the “happy” event move forward the rest of the family is presented to us. The sexually repressed mother (Diana Cignoni), her far less sexually repressed sister (Beth Hogan), the insatiably satiric father (John Apicella), and the grandfather (Mark Bramhall) whose pedophilic tendencies are overlooked by the rest of the family as merely an eccentricity of age.

Though only written in 1975, the attitudes found in the work regarding sexuality seem derived from a far earlier epoch.

The performers are of the standard one expects of the Odyssey; they are a talented, capable and one may say courageous cast willing to go where the material and their director demands of them.

Mr. Apicella as the ever randy father is a stand out, as is licentious Mr. Bramhall. Beth Hogan has been one of the pillars of the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre since its inception, and in Mr. Sossi’s first effort at staging this play 35 years ago, it was Ms. Hogan filling the part of Pauline, the sexually adventurous younger sister. So it is fitting in this production that she plays the girl’s aunt, a woman with a past who remembers those days with fondness and not shame. Both Ms. Hogan and Ms. Cignoni as the aunt and mother are exemplary in their roles bringing eloquence to their counterpointing of the young sisters.

The play seems to divide the cast, with each half serving as doppelganger for the other. One half are aliens within the confines of their own bodies. The other half, rejecting any moral or social restriction, has opted for the personas of wild woodland creatures. Both halves appear in harmony only on the harrowing experience of inhabiting the human form.

The characters are all seemingly trapped in “being what is expected of them”, in fleeing what “they fear becoming”, or as prisoners of their “lower urges”.

In this, Różewicz appears either to be questioning whether humanity can ever break free of expectations, fears and primal drives, or accusing humanity of being nothing else but some Frankenstein monster sewn together from expectations, fears and primal drives.

The play is surfeit with nudity, sexual drives, erotic suggestions, fetish undertows, hinted bestialities, incestuous whispers and lustful bellowing a-plenty. What is missing from “White Marriage” is the act of intercourse, good ol’ “meat and potatoes”, E-Ticket intercourse, even from the climatic wedding bed.

Ergo the title.

Sex is spread over the play like a generous helping of jam on rye toast. But jam on toast is added to give taste, not to provide nourishment.

In the carrying on of Bianca, the younger daughter, who squeezes chocolates from her pedophile grandfather in exchange for her used undergarments, and the bellowing of her philandering father as he pursues the house maids, sex is reduced down to either a sordid exchange or a petty game.

The work offers up a vast Freudian show and tell, with forests of phallic timbers, characters offering up such observations as, “Sometimes the black of mourning brings out a women’s beauty”, to a roaring man/beast in search of rutting his “stink horn” fully exposed.

To that end Mr. Sossi has certainly presented his audiences with an image-laden work, and of those images some are jarring. Others excruciating.

Gary Guidinger’s set accommodates the ample imagery while retaining an openness that never threatens to constrict the action of the piece, and both Derrick McDaniel’s lighting scheme and Martin Carrillo’s sound design add a perfect accent to the actions staged.

However, like the titular “Marriage” of the piece, the play itself feels unconsummated. Like the floats from the annual Rose Bowl Parade the various expressions-perversions-facets of human sexuality in “White Marriage” are a riot for the eye while passing by, but their color and flamboyance brings with it no depth of raised awareness, no illuminating insight, and all that remains in their wake is a remembrance of fragrance that will fade on the next wind.

The play sets an intriguing puzzle to test its audiences, a test which I certainly haven’t the answers for and which I doubt the playwright would claim he does either.

And therein lays the greatest appeal of the work, in its challenging the audience to take the test. However, both the playwright and Mr. Sossi make it very clear they’re not grading on a curve.

 

White Marriage

Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
(310) 477-2055 ext. 2
www.OdysseyTheatre.com

Performances: April 5 – May 25:
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: May 7 ONLY
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: May 1, 15 and 22 ONLY
Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 25; May 2, 9, 16, 23
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 26; May 3, 10, 17, 24
Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 27; May 4, 11, 18, 25

Tickets:
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays: $25
Saturdays and Sundays, except Saturday, April 5: $30
Saturday, April 5: $45 (includes a gala reception with the actors)
May 16 (wine night): Pay-what-you-can (minimum $10)