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A Year on the Boards 

Well, that "auld lang syne" mood is upon us once again. It's time to cast a backward glance on the year that was. With an eye out especially for trends.

One of the problems in the local theater scene -- last year, as always -- was the scarcity of stages. Happily, however, some new locations were added to the list.

In that regard, the Jefferson Performing Arts Society seemed to be bursting out in all directions. They moved their rocking version of Smokey Joe's Cafe (directed by Brandt Blocker) over to the new Westwego Performing Arts Center -- where the public was also treated to a traditional Noh theater from Japan, among other productions. JPAS' homegrown version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast (directed by Kenneth Beck) transferred to the Grand Casino in Biloxi for a month's run. Could mini-tours like these help keep successful shows alive by introducing them to new audiences?

Even our own Harrah's Casino put on a play, Tony 'N Tina's Italian Wedding (although the production company was from New York City).

Among other unexpected places to see a show was the Jewel Gallery on Magazine Street, where Lane Savadove brought us an imaginative revival of Frank Wedekind's 19th century shocker Spring Awakening. Add to the list as well, the library of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Canal Street, where Mason Wood staged Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Meanwhile Jose Torres Tama performed his most recent one-man show at the Gold Mine Saloon -- an odd little gin mill in the French Quarter that has become known for its poetry readings and cultural programs. Finally, those scintillating Chalmatians of Shine Productions offered their own Italian "Family" Wedding show in Rocky and Carlo's restaurant.

With all these attempts to bring plays to new spaces, it seems strange that the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), with its two renovated theaters, remains a low profile in the world of drama. In order to keep a hand in the game, the CAC has taken to adopting an annual resident company. This past year, ArtSpot Productions (under the leadership of Kathy Randels and J. Hammons) gave us such intriguing puzzlers as the historical fantasia Chekhov's Wild Ride.

Unfortunately, there are a few casualties on the alternative-space list. Persistent rumors say the UNO Downtown Theatre is not long for this world. The Core at the State Palace Theater -- where Amy Woodruff produced The Seven last January -- is also giving off moribund vibes. And, it seems The ARK, that bohemian hole-in-the-wall in Faubourg Marigny, has succumbed to the usual suspects (finances, building codes, plus what we are told was a furious and relentless neighbor).

Like they say, you win some, you lose some.

On the more legit scene, there were some promising changes. Roch Eshleman, that gutsy young entrepreneur, bought True Brew. After a few unavoidable rough spots at the beginning of his stewardship, Eshleman showed he is committed to keeping the place a class act -- presenting among other things, Mikko's original study of Napoleon (starring himself) and an entertaining miniature epic called Miz Caraway and the Kingfish (directed by Perry Martin). Speaking of transitions, Ricky Graham took over the helm at NORD Theater, when his old mentor and longtime NORD mainstay Ty Tracy passed away. The torch is in good hands, as anyone who saw Graham's first outing Lamoura of the Islands (by David Cuthbert, Bob Bruce and Ruth More) can attest. We must also pause to lament the passing of talented director Keith Briggs.

Meanwhile, over at Le Petit, all the action took place in what used to be called The Children's Corner, because the main auditorium was closed for a thorough overhaul. The small theater proved cozy and effective, particularly for the recent mounting of Tru, featuring a tour de force performance by Bob Edes.

But if bricks and mortar were in the spotlight generally this year, the show's the thing, of course. Most especially, the original show. Here we must commend Le Chat Noir and Southern Rep who have once again established themselves as the primo spots for new scripts. Although, the Anthony Bean Community Theater and the Neighborhood Gallery Theater also deserve a tip of the hat for encouraging up-and-coming local playwrights. And so, with the usual apologies to all the worthies who did not get mentioned, that was the year that was.

click to enlarge Le Petit's staging of Tru, featuring a tour de force performance by Bob Edes, showed a deft use of The Children's Corner while the main stage underwent renovations.
  • Le Petit's staging of Tru, featuring a tour de force performance by Bob Edes, showed a deft use of The Children's Corner while the main stage underwent renovations.
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