New Play Bacchanal
The Thanatos Brass Band
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Southern Rep, The Shops at Canal Place, 333 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545; www.southernrep.com
Tickets $10, festival pass $25, student/senior festival pass $20
The gods of Greek myth will be running the city a little earlier this winter. Playwright Jim Fitzmorris, whose new work The Thanatos Brass Band opens Southern Rep's New Play Bacchanal, has cast the rulers of Mt. Olympus as regular players in Crescent City politics. And he says he's been true to both.
"It's been fun to make them sound like New Orleanians," he said as the cast prepared for its first rehearsal. "At the same time, they have to sound like the Greek Pantheon."
Demeter (Carol Sutton) presides over Aunty D's Bakery of Soul, and she isn't interested in any slights from Hermes (Troy Poplous), who is a New Orleans police captain. "You don't have to tell me the bread is good," the goddess of agriculture and provider of sustenance says. "I know it's good. I baked it."
And don't even think of asking Dionysus about the wine selection.
Thanatos is a Greek spirit that draws out the soul of a dead person and delivers it to Hermes, who then escorts it to Hades. When Fitzmorris married the Greek myth and local politics, he matched up all the gods with local figures, and assigned Thanatos to a brass band's role.
Thanatos is being staged in a workshop format, so there will be costumes and minimal sets, but the actors will be working with the script. The festival includes three plays under development, allowing writers to work on the piece day to day as actors perform it. It also allows audiences a peek at the process.
"We need that process at Southern Rep," says the company's artistic director Aimee Hayes. "We need to get back in the groove and see more works in progress."
Developing new works and writers is part of the playhouse's mission. The Bacchanal expands on previous new play festivals with a full slate of events. Subsequent weeks feature workshop versions of Afterlife by Atlanta playwright Steve Yockey and The Thing About It — A New Musical by Pete Sturman and Brian Sands. Visiting playwrights will speak, including Doug Wright (Jan. 19), author of I Am My Own Wife, which Southern Rep staged in November 2009 and Grey Gardens, which will be produced in March. There is a showcase (Jan. 20 & 27) of winners from contests for 10-minute plays and radio plays. On the comic side, there is an Alterna-Ending Play Slam (Jan. 23), which features actors offering new endings to famous dramas.
Being able to work on a play with actors is a luxury not easily afforded playwrights.
"It's invaluable," says Fitzmorris, who last had the opportunity while in graduate school. "I can cut, shape and change it. I can hear what it sounds like in the actors' mouths. You can change things right up to the last minute."