Sometimes a play keeps me up at night, thinking about it, wondering what the author meant, feeling my way through my objections, trying to form words to express my thoughts about it. Calme au Blanc is one of those plays. I stayed up late afterwards, and continue to struggle with it even now as I write this review.
Louis Crowder is an emerging New Orleans playwright to watch out for. I'm rooting for him, but do have criticisms. Calme au Blanc is the third play of his that I've seen. The first 2 were one-acts performed together at Marigny Theatre last season as Cobalt Blue, Disaster Number 1604, Parts 1 and 2 (a title I'm not too fond of). Aside from the general objection to "yet another Katrina play", I had strong criticisms about the one-acts last season, about the histrionic writing and clumsy direction. Some of my criticisms about the writing still apply to this third play, but overall Calme au Blanc is a stronger piece of work than the one-acts, more mature and better directed. The playwright directed the one-acts himself last year.
Bringing Glenn Meche on board as director of Calme au Blanc was a giant step forward for the work. Meche is a Big Easy Award-nominated director, and an actor, who is described by his casts as "an actor's director". Meche did a much better job of casting, which has the largest impact on the success of a production than any other directorial decision. Actors Keith Launey and Liz Mills are a young pair to watch out for too. Because they're dating, you'll tend to see them appear on stage together, and their chemistry is evident. Mills was especially alive in her character. Launey was more relaxed than I've ever seen him, and managed to wrangle some pretty thick, occasionally pretentious language into human speech.
The language was the most noticeable feature of Calme au Blanc. The script is "writerly". Crowder does have something important to say about class struggle and the perverted recovery of New Orleans. His language is poetic and forceful. But at times (especially in the second act) the language becomes too esoteric, especially from the mouth of the Sea God. The achingly slow delivery by 20-year-old actor Chris Weaver, who is simply too young for the role of Sea God, did not help language I was already squirming over.
In particular, I do not like the voice of the author speaking through God. In all 3 plays, some incarnation of a sea god appears in the second half to set things right. He or she tells off the protagonists, pointing out the errors in their logic. As a unifying device for a tryptich of plays, the Sea God works fine; but sitting in the audience, I felt lectured by the author. I'm smart enough to come to my own conclusions, without the ghost in the machine telling me what to think.
I loath even typing those last sentences, because I'm guilty of the same sin of lecturing in my own writing. The challenge for a writer is to have something important to say, which Crowder does, without dropping like a moral anvil onto the heads of the audience.
Despite my criticisms, I'm glad I saw Calme au Blanc. It was interesting work. I saw growth, and I expect to see more from Crowder. I hope he continues to write and produce in New Orleans. I hope other people check him out.