At the beginning of Be a New Orleanian: A Swearing-In Ceremony, Jim Fitzmorris seems angry. He grew up in the city and says that over the years he has participated in countless debates about who is and is not a New Orleanian — conversations frequently spurred by visitors or newcomers. He unpacks what he thinks it means to be a New Orleanian in his one-man show, now playing The Theatre at St. Claude.
Directed by Mike Harkins, the show is framed as a series of six "Be a New Orleanian" tips, such as "a smile might save your life" and "indulge." Fitzmorris pulls from his own life experiences, which allows him to play up local humor that longtime residents will find familiar, such as fierce high school loyalties (Fitzmorris went to Jesuit High School). He's at his funniest when he rants, especially about how the city has a niche tour for everything and how no one uses turn signals. These rapid-fire tirades go from witty to scathing in less than a sentence. While the hourlong show covers a lot of ground socially and politically, Fitzmorris skims over racial issues. He deftly navigates the city's terrain, and commentary on race relations could have been interesting.
For much of the performance, Fitzmorris sits at a desk flanked by yearbooks, Zatarain's products and Mardi Gras beads. The set is minimal and avoids distracting from the show's emotional thrust. Fitzmorris' rants always lead to insightful and affecting payoffs — he's not just talking to hear himself scream. One of the show's most poignant moments comes when he tells the story of a "cool" looking couple that doesn't smile — which he already has recommended in a key tip — at a grocery cashier. The anecdote encapsulates some residents' feelings toward transplants who seem to have invested little in the city while laying claim to its name.
His tips mostly are for people new to town, but he references many things only longtime New Orleanians could recognize or appreciate. He eloquently breaks down the media's "N'awlins narrative" of indulgence without consequences and writes a love letter to the small moments that make New Orleans great. Though Fitzmorris is rightfully critical at times, he doesn't tell transplants to pack their bags, but rather asks those who want to be New Orleanians to get to know the city. The monologue is well-written and dynamically delivered. Whether people have spent decades or a few weeks here, they can enjoy the show and leave the theater with plenty to discuss.