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New Orleans theater companies collaborate for comedy 

Companies combine for It's Only a Play and Taming of the Shrew

Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre closes its centennial season with a comedy about horrible theater types, Terrence McNally's It's Only a Play.

  The play takes place in the Upper East Side New York townhouse of a socialite who's produced a play. At an opening night party, the playwright Peter Austin (Sean Patterson), his friend and actor James Wicker (Ricky Graham) who turned down a role in the show, the director, one of the stars and a critic anxiously await reviews.

  Director A.J. Allegra, artistic director of the NOLA Project, cast a host of actors familiar to fans of both Le Petit and his company.

  "Ricky is the jaded actor," Allegra says. "Sean is the playwright. Leslie (Castay) is the pill-popping, booze-hound, washed-up actor. Cecile (Monteyne) is the idiot producer. Keith (Claverie) is the pompous director. Alex Ates is the idiot coat check boy. James Bartelle is the snobbish critic. I think I cast each of them to what I thought their strengths would be."

  Now in its 13th season, The NOLA Project may not be the youngest, edgiest theater company in town anymore, Allegra says. It was closer to that in 2008, when it spent a year in residence at Le Petit and presented Assassins, Poona the F—kdog and a couple of original works in the smaller theater in the part of the complex that is now Tableau restaurant. This production has The NOLA Project and Le Petit on equal footing as producers, and the show fits both of their companies' seasons, Allegra says. He shared the idea of doing It's Only a Play with Le Petit artistic director Maxwell Williams in early 2016.

  "It's in a darkly humorous vein of The NOLA Project, but it's such a great fit for a company going through its 100th anniversary at this historic playhouse," Allegra says. "It has this love of theater and an irreverent sense of making fun of itself."

  In another collaboration between established and relatively young companies, the New Orleans Shakes-peare Festival at Tulane and Cripple Creek Theatre Company, now in its 11th season, are presenting The Taming of the Shrew at Tulane's Lupin Theatre through June 18.

  The play begins with the indomit-able Katherina Minola (Devyn Tyler) loudly defying her father and upset-ting the household as he seeks to marry off her sister Bianca.

  "Katherina is hell and Baptista is exhausted," says director Emilie Whelan of Cripple Creek.

  The drama follows Petruchio's (Andrew Vaught) brash courtship and attempt to bend Katherina to his will.

  The humor in that battle is what drew Cripple Creek to the work. The comedy at the outset helps with its mission to meet different audiences, Whelan says. With its last two summer productions — the musicals The Cradle Will Rock and Ragtime — Cripple Creek has presented free shows as an exploration of ways to reach beyond traditional theatergoing audiences. This year, the company presented its Shakespeare production at the Treme Community Center, at Bridge House and Grace House, which help people recover from substance abuse, and to 200 inmates of the Dixon Correctional Institute north of Baton Rouge .

  "It's amazing to see Shakespeare shine in a cafeteria at Bridge House," Whelan says.

  While the work is a comedy, it's also about rising up with dignity, she says. 

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