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Curtain Call 

Last year's year-end round up was more like a disaster tour than a chronicle of plays and players. Well, we've come a long way, baby. This year, our thespians got back on stage and lived up to their age-old mantra: "the show must go on."

Le Petit Theatre was in full swing with many improvements in place, including the long-coveted orchestra pit. During the repairs, Sonny Borey and his gang offered a season in the second theater. But this year, they regained the old one-two combination. So, while we had shows like The Full Monty on the main stage, we could also take in a wild camp satire like Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte! in the second theater.

This brings up what seems to be a general drift away from decorum -- not only in politics, but also on the legitimate stage. Is this a sign of the decline and fall of the republic? Who can say? The trend locally is to mix-and-match: staid classics alternate with spicier offerings.

Rivertown Rep, for instance, gave us the Musical Urinetown -- a peepee fable. It also presented tried-and-true classics like South Pacific.

Jefferson Performing Arts Society has become a major player on the theater scene, particularly -- but, by no means exclusively -- when it comes to musicals. However, JPAS also combined unlikely things. It gave us solid warhorses like Man of La Mancha, but varied the program with unexpected presentations like Flanagan's Wake and the premiere of local playwright Yvette Sirker's Pink Collar Crime.

The word "premiere" brings to mind Southern Rep Artistic Director Ryan Rilette, who has become the Pasha of Premieres, so to speak. Callie's Tally, for instance, was a world premiere, so were Yuletide by local writer Jim Fitzmorris and The Last Madam written by Fitzmorris and Carl Walker and based on the book by local writer Christine Wiltz. We should point out that this emphasis on the new will continue.

Meanwhile, ArtSpot Productions -- the brainchild of Kathy Randels -- continued to dominate the performance-art scene with an outing (literally) on a West Bank tract of land known as Studio in the Woods and an international cutting-edge festival at the C.A.C.

The Anthony Bean Community Theater also balanced accepted fare with newly penned creations. Fences by August Wilson, for instance, was followed by Little Bit by John Grimsley and Living All Alone by Bean himself.

Cabaret Le Chat Noir soldiered on with its own version of this benign schizophrenia. In the established hit category, it gave us things like Musical of Musicals, produced and directed by Brandt Blocker, who cranked out a string of gems again this year. On the original side, Ricky Graham was busy as usual, mounting I'm Still Here, Me and Naughty Bits. Meanwhile, the annual one-act play contest brought us a harvest of native imaginings. Speaking of naughty bits, one of the racier offerings was the camp spoof L'Imitation of Life by Running With Scissors.

Actor's Theatre of New Orleans produced a steady stream of shows that ranged from dramas like The Exonerated to knock-about originals like RenŽ Piazza's ongoing series of skewered classics. At Theater Marigny, homosexuality continued to be the focus. If a play revisited Eden (like The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told), you could be pretty sure Adam would fall for Steve instead of Eve.

Among the summertime standbys, a nod as usual goes to Tulane Summer Lyric Theater and to the university's Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, where longtime Artistic Director AimŽe Michel handed the torch to Ron Gural, who was one of the Festival's founders. The NOLA Project returned to present an appealing season with Moliere's The Misanthrope and a comedy about Katrina staged, appropriately, on the beach of Lake Ponchartrain.

Now, for 'the hidden treasure' -- that is, a topnotch show that got less attention than it deserved. And the award goes to ... The Woolgatherer (starring Ashley Ricord and Michael Aaron Santos) at The Big Top Gallery. Woolgatherer showed that everything besides meaningful words and truthful acting is ultimately irrelevant.

Unfortunately, we must pause a moment to remember some of our losses. We regret the passing of two remarkably talented actors, Gavin Mahlie and Mark Krasnoff. They were young and at the height of their talents. We will miss them both.

But, let's close on a note of hope: a local original that went on to fame. One Mo' Time -- written, directed by and starring Vernel Bagneris -- got off to a modest start here two decades ago, then hit it big in New York. The show is a celebration of 1920s New Orleans jazz. This year, One Mo' Time played a return engagement at Le Petit and reminded us that good things can happen, no matter how bad the odds.

click to enlarge Michael Aaron Santos and Ashley Ricord performed in - William Mastrosimone's The Woolgatherer at The - Big Top Gallery in one of the year's unexpected surprises.
  • Michael Aaron Santos and Ashley Ricord performed in William Mastrosimone's The Woolgatherer at The Big Top Gallery in one of the year's unexpected surprises.
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