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Camp and Creole 

For his first outing as the new NORD theater director, Ricky Graham chose Lamoura of the Islands, an original comedy with book and lyrics by Bob Bruce and David Cuthbert. Cuthbert is best known presently as theater critic of The Times-Picayune, but before taking on that job he was active for years as a playwright and lyricist. Lamoura is one of Cuthbert's movie-madness farces. In the playbill, Lamoura has the subtitle "A South Seas Musical with a New Orleans Accent." And they do mean "accent, dawlin'," if you get my drift.

The point of the play is ... well, actually, to look for the point is to miss the point. Lamoura is entertainment, pure and simple. And a zestful, small-scale extravaganza it was. If the natives of a Polynesian paradise "make their groceries" at some South Sea Schwegmann's and munch on day-glow snowballs, that's just the way it is. You got a problem with that? Then you're in the wrong theater. On the day I saw the show, the audience couldn't get enough.

And while local references (from hereabouts, not from the Pacific basin) were rife, they did not provide the only humor. For instance, an aqua ballet of "synchronized" swimming at the end of the first act was hilarious. Needless to say, "synchronized" is in quotes for a reason.

The songs (music by Ruth More) were fun. And so was much of the dancing (choreography by Ann Sauvé). For all its goodhearted silliness, the script trod at times into dark humor. Philip Wagar's set was dominated by a volcano, and the plot was dominated by a virgin sacrifice to the volcano god. This atrocity was celebrated in catchy tunes such as "The Sacrificial Samba" and "Shake and Bake," as well as a rock 'n' roll lament for sacrificed virgins past called "Volcano Angel."

Jessie Terrebonne was a loud, knockabout Lamoura, with plenty of oomph and a strong, if somewhat raucous, voice. The tribal chief (or should I say "chef") Menteur was the ever outrageous and always assured Roy Haylock, who also partnered with Bob Bruce to costume the comely natives of Manura.

Some other standouts in the cast were Matthew Ragas as the romantic lead Po-Boy, Brian Peterson as the duenna Muffeleta and 11-year-old Ryan Greenberg as Mo-Reese, a mischievous monkey.

Somewhere, in that great Green Room in the sky, the late Ty Tracy (who was the first theatrical mentor to a wannabe actor named Ricky Graham) must be looking down with pride and paternal affection.

Meanwhile, sacrifices of a more somber nature were lamented recently at The Neighborhood Gallery Theater. Kim Layman directed her own script Brown Paper Bag, an investigation of "reverse discrimination within the black classes of New Orleans."

The brown bag referred to is the infamous skin-color test that determined if a person's hue was light enough for black Creole society. The play is set in the Seventh Ward, the traditional neighborhood home of black Creoles -- that in-between racial caste that's been an important presence here since before the Civil War. Or, as a dark-skinned friend of mine used to refer to them (admittedly, with a trace of rancor): "those London Avenue Mulattos!"

Brown Paper Bag is a family drama. It is, in fact, a drama of two families that are intertwined more deeply than some of them know. In this staging, the families are both presented on the same one half of stage -- this area is meant to be taken as two separate locales -- the home of whichever family is onstage at that time.

By the second act, the stakes in the drama get pretty high. There is a voodoo murder, followed by a regret-fueled suicide, plus heavy doses of skin-color obsession and marital anguish and, for lagniappe, a first love rediscovered too late.

The cast of Brown Paper Bag was game and tried to bring this emotionally inflammable material honestly to life. The slim resources of the theater, however, lend themselves to more modest stories.

Among the standouts in the cast were Corey Hebert as a Creole lawyer; Andrea Cooper as his former love, Pearlina Thomas as his present wife, Ernest Lewis as Joe the bartender and Huzefa Dossaji as a drug addict-turned -Muslim. This original was a worthwhile, though uneven, attempt.

click to enlarge Po-Boy (Matthew Ragas) romances Lamoura (Jessie Terrebonne) in NORD Theater's recent staging of the New Orleans-centric musical Lamoura of the Islands.
  • Po-Boy (Matthew Ragas) romances Lamoura (Jessie Terrebonne) in NORD Theater's recent staging of the New Orleans-centric musical Lamoura of the Islands.
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