The 9th Ward Opera Company recently presented an odd-couple of one-act operas at the Marigny Opera House: the grim tragedy Blue Monday by George Gershwin, and Xavier University professor Dan Shore's funny and vibrant An Embarrassing Position. The young company was able to double-cast most roles in each piece, and the cast I saw on July 26 offered great singing throughout both shows.
Both pieces were performed with only piano accompaniment, ably provided by Ronald Joseph. Costumes and sets were minimal but sufficient. In Blue Monday, a bright red flapper dress and a couple of headpieces were enough to evoke the Jazz Age.
Blue Monday takes place in a Harlem bar where patrons gamble in the backroom and pay a cut to the owner, May (Vickie Thomas). Joe (Prentiss Mouton) is on a lucky streak, and he plans to take a long trip to visit his mother using his winnings. Tom (Kentrell Roberts) is a piano player who loses money to Joe and wants to steal his girlfriend Vi (Ebonee Davis). Tom is sour in general and resentful of Joe in particular, and he tells Vi that Joe is leaving to see another woman, which sets the plot on its tragic course as Joe declines to share his plan with her. Mouton delivered a strong performance, from his opening prologue delivered directly to the audience to the story's deathbed conclusion, and was sharp in the more operatic numbers. Gershwin's score incorporates jazz, and Dedrian Hogan, who played the bar hand Sam, sang the appropriately bluesy "Blue Monday Blues."
An Embarrassing Position is an adaption of a Kate Chopin one-act comedy of the same name. It's set in New Orleans in the 1890s, and bachelor politician Willis Parkham (Hogan) is at home where his housekeeper scolds him about restraint while surreptitiously nipping at liquor bottles. Parkham has an affection for Eva Delvigne (Lesley A. DeMartin, pictured), a young woman who arrives unannounced. Their coy and playful chat barely conceals their mutual interest, and when there's a knock on the door, the bachelor ushers her to a back room. In swoops June Jenkins (played by an exuberant Rebecca Ryan), a reporter for the New Orleans Times Democrat. Parkham thinks she wants to talk about politics, but she's interested in his personal life, which she hopes to splash, in glorious and constant refrain, "on the cover" — which is the type of tabloid publicity he'd like to avoid. In the backroom, Delvigne has Parkham just where she wants him. It's a thoroughly enjoyable parlor comedy with smart direction by Danielle Edinburgh. Hogan, DeMartin and Ryan sang beautifully, and Shore's clever lyrics left many in the audience singing after the show.
The shows are an unlikely pair, but both are under 30 minutes and the performance flew by even with an intermission. The 9th Ward Opera Company is quickly making a name for itself with its high-quality singing and creative choices. — WILL COVIELLO