Contemporary adaptations of classical plays can be perilous endeavors, suffering from stilted prose and contrived action, but The Two Gentlemen of Verona, mounted by New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, succeeds with aplomb. The sole anachronisms — not easily substituted — are amorous, handwritten letters secretly delivered back and forth. Text messages simply would not do.
This light-hearted romantic comedy, one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, probably written while the playwright was in his twenties, speaks to the inexplicable power of youthful infatuation. In this production, the actors’ smart, quick-paced repartee captivates the audience as the plot intertwines two love triangles, threatening a lifelong friendship.
Saving babies from kidnappers is not typically a job for a boozy homeless girl but that is the premise of Amanda Miller’s new satirical play, Drunk Homeless ’80s Girl’s Manifest Destiny.
“Santa is spearheading this kidnapping because he was dropped by Coca-Cola and he thinks that by kidnapping the next generation of consumers, he will get Coca-Cola to pay him his deference,” Miller says in a phone interview from her home in New York City.
In rock clubs, at festivals and on few-and-far-between carnival midways, sideshow performers are returning to the spotlight. They’re sucking down fire, hanging from hooks like devotees of some high-tech yogic sleeping practice, and reviving classic arts as they juggle Champagne bottles. These feats of physical and mental endurance shock, horrify and and amaze — but most of all, they entertain.
In advance of this month’s Snake Oil Festival, Gambit spoke with sideshow performers and a sideshow historian about the festival and the state of the art.
Apparently, tossing a few balls in the air and catching them isn’t enough to call yourself a juggler. Arty Dodger informs me that among those who know, you’re not legit until you can do five throws and catches of five objects at a time. But Dodger (who prefers to use his stage name) practices a more difficult, obscure style of juggling called “gentleman juggling,” in which everyday household objects — a hat, a cane — become airborne as props in his act.
Dodger, 30, has been juggling since he was nine. He got his first professional gig in his 20s and now regularly performs at sideshow festivals across the South. In his act, he performs balance stunts (pictured) or juggles objects as obscure and/or dangerous as Tasers and his personal favorite, Champagne bottles. (He clarifies: “Empty. You don’t want to waste good alcohol.”)
An energizing drum roll begins, lights come up and 10 men in football gear thunder across stage as the audience enters UNO’s Robert E. Nim’s Theatre. The audience inevitably gets caught up in the thrill of a game, even as a more somber human drama unfolds. An ambitious recent work by Andrew Hinderaker, Colossal portrays America’s favorite contact sports and explores how an individual recovers and discovers a new identity after a cataclysmic event.
The athletes scrimmage, huddle and shout in pre-game bonding rituals before the action freezes and Mike (Tobias “Toby” Forrest), a solitary man in a wheelchair, rolls himself to center stage. Also onstage is the uninjured Mike (Ross Britz), the team’s captain before a “reckless” headlong dive derailed his future. Colossal’s plot follows Mike’s gradual acceptance of his new reality and mental detours to his triumphant past.
Despite opening on Broadway more than 50 years ago, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, currently running at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, is hilariously entertaining. The timeless plot is based on comedies penned by the Roman playwright Plautus 2,000 years ago, which proves that dynamics among young lovers, old fools, egotistical leaders and cunning underlings never really change.
Forum won six Tony Awards and is considered one of the most successful musical comedies of all time. With book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the show is one of the few for which Stephen Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics. His rousing opener “Comedy Tonight” sets up the premise of the play, and it’s the tune audiences leave humming.
New Orleans' own Bianca del Rio — longtime entertainer and winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6 — will bring her "Not Today, Satan" tour to the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts Nov. 4.
Del Rio (the creation of comic/costumer Roy Haylock) last appeared in New Orleans at House of Blues in a sold-out show in November 2014 (read Gambit's cover interview here). Her current tour began in Australia this month. An American leg starts in September and wraps with the New Orleans appearance in November.
The bright-eyed and eager J. Pierrepont Finch accepts an entry-level job in the mailroom of World Wide Wicket Company. He doesn’t plan to stay in the position long though, because he has a how-to book that promises to help him climb the corporate ladder in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, currently running at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts,
Finch (Bobby Kelly) acts coy around the office watercooler, but he’s a schemer. He’s also fortunate to constantly find himself in the right place at the right time, and sometimes he sets up coworkers to be fired. Kelly is a talented singer and injects Finch with warmth to make him likable and enough sleaze to make him dangerous. Finding that balance is no small feat as Finch pursues unethical plans and is dismissive of his office admirer, Rosemary Pilkington (Abby Botnick). Botnick also has one of the cast’s stronger voices, and she is funny as a woman pursuing a man more interested in his career ambitions.
Don Quixote mounts his horse to face his nemesis Friston. The two have a deal: If Quixote wins, Friston stops terrorizing him. If Quixote loses, he abandons his quest for adventures and knighthood. But Quixote isn’t a real knight, and the battle leads to a harsh realization in The NOLA Project’s adaptation of Don Quixote at the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Alonso Quixano is a dreamer. He wants more in his old age than just long naps and slow days. To combat his unrest, the avid reader has invented his bandit-fighting alter-ego Don Quixote (Ian Hoch). The story is introduced by Quixote’s trusted squire Sancho Panza (Mike Spara), who tells the audience about Quixote’s adventures. This frame works well as the likeable Spara plays to the crowd and his excellent comedic timing helps the narrative make smooth transitions. Hoch delivers a dazzling, wide-eyed performance, giving Quixote endearing sincerity without making him seem crazy even as he fights a windmill he believes to be a giant.
Jake Bullock has lived through the Civil War, survived the stock market crash of 1929 and observed the birth of the Internet. Born in 1796, his life spans centuries, but he stopped physically aging in his thirties. He doesn’t know how it happened, but it’s allowed him to witness most of our nation’s history. He recounts his story in Choosing A Hat Productions’ Ancient Jake, currently at The Fortress of Lushington in Faubourg Marigny.
James Patrick is an engaging and likable actor, and as Jake, he sits in an armchair and talks directly to the audience in an easy manner. Jake has lived a nomadic lifestyle, finding work in big Northern cities and small Southern towns. He meanders through nearly two centuries of occupations including bus driver, bartender and stints in the military as well as time in prison for accidentally urinating on the president of Princeton University.
A company member plays a song in a Bread and Puppet production.
Joseph Therrien, a touring company member with Bread and Puppet Theater, knows how to start a revolution. To win hearts and minds, skip the canvassing and start making puppets.
“People — their inhibitions, their ideological beliefs — kind of soften when they see a puppet,” he says. “Especially with [Bread and Puppet], because we use a lot of humor and music, as opposed to someone who’s on the street, ranting on a soapbox, or someone trying to get signatures for a petition. As important as those things are … [puppets] really unlock something in people and make them more receptive.”