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Sketchy Past 

Beautiful Bastards, currently on the boards at La Nuit Theater, is an original comedy by Bud Faust about the founding of New Orleans. Bastards begins as the Sieur de Bienville (Ladson Poole) and his lantern-bearing lackey (Andrew Lemonier) set out to build a great city in an alligator-infested swamp. These two characters ground the rest of the play, although "grounded" is not the best word to describe the historical hysteria that follows.

Who will come to their godforsaken malarial quagmire? "They'll send us every criminal and whore of France," the primordial duo gloats. This is a solution, but it's not without some obvious drawbacks. The audience, presumably of locals and perhaps descendents, lapped it up.

With the alligators, snakes and tropical diseases, Bienville's dream is quickly depopulated. Much of the humor in the play is off the wall. For instance, when Bienville is waxing lyrical about the view outside his window, he suddenly shouts, "Why is one of my men on fire?"

"The Indians told him if he ate a certain root, he would be fireproof," replies the lackey.

Native Americans soon enter the picture. The grim Chief Bayuk (Sean Reilly) and his son Uxsu (Paul Lemonier) have no time for small talk, and they are not interested in preventing their braves from chasing women in the woods. But they do understand basic hydraulics. They advise the Frenchmen to knock holes in the caskets of their dead companions if they want them to stay in water-soaked graves.

Osbourne (Gary Mendoza) the builder (or as we would say today, the contractor) is an Englishman. This shameless malingerer is like the immovable object and does not speed Bienville's grand dream forward. When Bienville suggests Osbourne work a little bit faster, Osbourne rejoins that it's incredibly hot out there. "Okay," suggests the exasperated aristocrat. "What about you work, as opposed to doing nothing."

New Orleans begins appropriately enough in chaos we all recognize. Perhaps the most familiar sentiment is captured by one of the founders: "I don't know which is worse: leaving this place or coming back."

Poor Bienville is ready to give up and go home, but he fears he will be a laughing stock. "Whenever I step in a puddle of mud, they will say I want to build a city there."

Things come to a head as the young Native American gets a colonist (Kristin Dugas) pregnant. She's one of the prostitutes who has been sent to Louisiana. To the disgrace of her profession, however, she didn't charge Uxsu any wampum. Now the mixed-race couple doesn't know what to do. He wants to be a chief after his father dies, but he can't if he's married to a white woman. She has trouble seeing herself as a squaw.

Furthermore, an important French journalist (Scott Lemonier) arrives to write about the colony. As luck would have it, he gets swept away by the Mississippi River — literally and physically swept away.

Under Julie Faust's direction, this divertimento is, in fact, diverting. As Bienville, Poole gets laughs like a pro. His co-players contribute to the nonsense with a ramshackle aplomb.

La Nuit is a neat, comfortable auditorium at the corner of Soniat and Freret that typically features improv comedy. At times Beautiful Bastards seems like a long sketch and at times like a short play, but it's worth a trip to the feisty little theater for a rambunctious and nutty evening.

click to enlarge Bienville (Ladson Poole) and his lackey (Andrew Lemonier) arrive in the Louisiana colony to build a city.
  • Bienville (Ladson Poole) and his lackey (Andrew Lemonier) arrive in the Louisiana colony to build a city.
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