Local politics have provided plenty of personal drama for playwright Jim Fitzmorris. He's the nephew of two-term Louisiana Lt. Gov. James Edward Fitzmorris, a former New Orleans city councilman who lost two bids for mayor. Fitzmorris' father James was a longtime district attorney for the city of New Orleans, and he's finally getting credit for his contribution to his son's writing. James shares writing credit for a show debuting at Tulane this week titled Soul of the City, half of which is about infamous New Orleans DA Jim Garrison.
"I picked his brain about how it all worked," says Jim Fitzmorris, who also has a doctorate in history. "I also realized there's so many things I got from him."
Fitzmorris has written implicitly about politics in works like The House of Plunder, about the Lousiana Purchase, and explicitly in With Malice Towards All, about elections. He previously touched on Garrison's career in adapting Christine Wiltz's The Last Madam for the stage. Soul of the City is a series of history plays he has sketched in five parts. The first two installments debut this week as a double header. A Matter of Perspective is about white New Orleanians in the 1950s and '60s who were opposed to segregation but unwilling to do anything to end it. The Big Razoo is about Garrison's campaign to clean up Bourbon Street, which ultimately left it changed but not necessarily for the better.
The show has opened new doors at Tulane as well. Through related classes, students from Xavier University, which doesn't have a theater department, were invited to audition. Fitzmorris would like to see the schools develop the relationship.
Xavier president Norman Francis is mentioned in the Soul of the City, but one of the odd challenges Fitzmorris found in working with the students on issues of race relations set in the 1950s and '60s is about generational change.
"We're living in a post-racial society for many of them," Fitzmorris says. "They look at some of this and say, 'That's just stupid. You're gonna have segregation for health reasons? Really?' We're working with them to play it straight — without commenting on it (on stage)."
As a playwright and historian, Fitzmorris hopes the work engages politicians.
"Most of the people in this play are gone to us. I hope political players will see this, and I hope others will tell their stories, too. All these great stories are getting lost."
More recent politics will come into finer focus in the next part of the series, which is about several of the city's mayoral elections. Inevitably, many politicians like his work.
"They all like it when it's not about them," he says, laughing.
But New Orleanians also come under scrutiny.
"People in New Orleans vote for the people they do because they're afraid of getting exactly what they deserve," Fitzmorris says. "The man from nowhere must be the future, because the familiar is always associated with the past."
In that way, Fitzmorris compares politics to other favored local vices.
"New Orleans voters are like binge drinkers. We wake up the next day and say we're never going to do that again. And then we start all over again."
Soul of the City
By Jim Fitzmorris and John D. Fitzmorris Jr.
Directed by Buzz Podewell
8 p.m. Tue.-Sat., April 21-25; 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., April 25-26
Tulane University, Lupin Theater, 865-5106; www.Tulane.edu
Tickets $12 general admission,$9 Tulane faculty/staff, $7 students