Hurricane Katrina was inevitably called “a catastrophe of biblical proportions.” The multitalented New Orleans writer John Biguenet has presented the catastrophe in three plays, all of which premiered at Southern Rep. Mold, the final installment, is currently on the boards at the Contemporary Art Center, and it is local original theater at its best.
Mold takes place one year after the storm and the levee failures. Trey (Trey Burvant) and Marie (Kerry Cahill) Guidry arrive at the flood-wrecked home of Trey’s parents — admirably evoked by set designer Geoffrey Hall. On the door is a red “X” with “2 dead” sprayed on it. That refers to Trey’s parents, who expired in the sweltering attic. Their deaths haunt Trey, who feels responsible.
As the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) cited the neighborhood's "resurgence in commercial activity” and arts and entertainment, the New Orleans City Council approved the St. Claude Avenue theater and performance space Backyard Ballroom's request for a conditional use to permit to allow the theater's operation with its newly acquired zoning change.
In October 2012, theater operator Laura Campbell (aka Otter) requested a zoning change for Backyard Ballroom. The theater opened in 2006 and served as a venue for dozens of performances, as well as acclaimed Fringe Fest productions, but it went dark in 2011 pending compliance with the area's zoning.
The initial zoning request was, according to the CPC, "beyond what would be suitable for the area." The CPC feared that the "too intense" zoning change from a neighborhood business district designation to a general commercial district designation would create too many opportunities to build out of scale with the neighborhood. While an arts zoning overlay would be a "long-term solution," CPC suggested a "less intense" commercial designation. In December, City Council approved that "less intense" zoning change.
At today's City Council meeting, CPC staff recommended approval with 12 provisos: The Backyard Ballroom must be soundproofed, install a 6 foot tall fence, restrict hours to no later than midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, install two bike parking spaces, and submit a litter abatement program.
Mary Ann Hammett, who serves on the Bywater Neighborhood Association's board, thanked council for its approval, though said it was an "arduous" process, but added that the neighborhood group plans to submit a proposal for a St. Claude arts and culture zoning overlay district. "To make this not so arduous we have come up with a proposed arts and culture overlay, and you will have that on your desk if not tomorrow then next week," she said.
Theater people call them “war stories” — the endless slips and goofs that plague live performance. An actor forgets to take off his glasses and enters as a medieval figure in fashionable modern eyewear. Michael Frayn’s award-winning 1982 comedy Noises Off, recently on the boards at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, might be considered the mother lode of all war stories.
The set is a two-story interior with seven doors — convenient for a knockabout farce. Dotty (Tracey E. Collins), the housekeeper, enters and goes through some business involving a telephone and a plate of sardines. She is interrupted by a loud voice from the back of the theater. Lloyd (Mike Harkins), the irascible director, is trying to put his cast through its paces. We are watching a dress rehearsal of a farcical play-within-the-play called Nothing On.
Broadway fans likely know Foster for originating the title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie and then reigning as The Great White Way's Permanent Leading Lady for many years after: following that Tony Award-winning turn in Millie, she starred in musical adaptations of Little Women, Young Frankenstein and Shrek, in The Drowsy Chaperone and in the revival of Anything Goes, for which she won her second Tony.
Now TV audiences know her from the ABC Family series Bunheads, in which Foster plays a Las Vegas showgirl transplanted to a small town where, after some tragic occurrences, she gets a job as a ballet school teacher. Here's some more from my interview with her that appears in this week's issue; we talked about the differences between doing theater and television, what she's watching on TV and what audiences can expect from tomorrow's show.
In a publicity preview, juggler/performer Patrick McGuire of Cirque du Soleil's Quidam visited Gambit's offices yesterday and performed a short impromptu juggling exhibition. McGuire is one of the original cast members of Quidam, which debuted in 1996. He was fresh out of high school when he auditioned for the troupe, but he was already an accomplished juggler. Renowned juggler and artist Michael Moschen picked him for the show, and he's since worked with Cirque du Soleil on several shows and tours. He spent two years in Las Vegas in Mystere, and he currently plays Papa in Quidam, which is at the New Orleans Arena March 13-17.
In Quidam, a young girl named Zoe is bored and wants to experience more excitement in life. She conjures an imaginary world full of exotic performers, and the jugglers, aerialists, acrobats, singers and other circus arts performers tempt even her distant and apathetic parents to find new wonder in their lives.
Cirque du Soleil was about 10 years old when McGuire first joined the company. It was just beginning to gain wider exposure for its elevation of circus arts and performance into its precise, grand-scale dazzling shows. The company now employs more than 1,300 artists/performers from 50 nations. The company estimates that 100 million spectators around the world have seen one of the shows since its founding in 1984.
Peter Shaffer’s Equus starts with the stark news that a young man has blinded six horses, and the wild ride deep into his psyche easily sustains the play through to its conclusion. In Promethean Theatre Company's production at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, Bob Edes Jr., as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, and Jesse Friedman, as the troubled assailant Alan Strang, star in an intense production.
The play is set in England and most of the cast sticks with British accents throughout. Hesther Saloman (Rebecca Frank) convinces the reluctant Dysart to treat Strang. More numb with horror than menacing, the boyish Alan resists him at first, but Dysart knows he is aching to reveal what caused him to maim the animals, especially because it’s clear Strang reveres horses. Leah Farrelly’s very effective two-tiered set makes the front of the stage into Dysart’s office, and a raised back portion serves as Strang’s hospital room and the setting for most of his disgorged memories.
Born Malcolm Little but better known as El Hajj Malik el Shabazz or Malcolm X, the black leader lived a remarkable life. He had a difficult early childhood in the Midwest and his father died (apparently murdered) when he was 6 years old. Malcolm later become a petty criminal, converted to Islam in prison and rose to lead the Nation of Islam. His life story is compellingly told in his autobiography, co-written with Alex Haley. The book is one of the inspirations behind Norbert R. Davidon’s El Hajj Malik: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, originally created in the late 1960s and currently running (with previously unused scenes) at Anthony Bean Community Theater.
Davidson chose to find everyman appeal in Malcolm’s story, which may seem odd given his extraordinary life. The seven actors and actresses all portray Malcolm in turn, as well as other important figures in his life. They wear black pants and shirts and don white opera masks to play white people. The stage is almost completely bare, except for a couple of chairs.
The action is set in Buffalo, N.Y., but it could be any economically decimated manufacturing city where this group of laid-off steel mill workers are collecting unemployment. The men notice the women in their lives — who have assumed breadwinner roles after the layoffs — are paying big bucks to see male strippers at a local club, and soon the guys hatch a plan to create their own Chippendales-esque revue to pay the bills. These men do not look or move like Channing Tatum, but they believe their realness will be a draw — plus, they decide their show will leave nothing to the imagination.
So, what's your point?
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