Walker (and his All Kinds of Theater Company) premiered the Native Tongues series in 1997. The format of the show has remained pretty much the same in each outing -- that it stays so fresh seems nothing less than miraculous.
Native Tongues 4 is book-ended by Critic, a piece written by Jon Newlin. The eponymous critic (Bob Edes) is dressed to the nines in a blazer, an ascot and a toupee. He peruses (and dissects) the other art patrons at a gallery opening. This critic is the best of company -- in a venomous sort of way. "Hot as a crotch outside!" he exclaims. Then, taking a sip of "art swill" from his plastic cup, he launches into brief mock-epics about acquaintances of his -- like the millionaire, who ended up as a busboy in Tujaque's. "In sashays a horrible old trout," as the critic puts it in his caustic jargon. The horrible old trout -- a vindictive former friend of the ex-millionaire -- wants to humiliate him now. The critic's vitriol is so tasty, it could be bottled -- queen-size, of course.
Playwright Jim Fitzmorris gives us Responsible Parental Design. Wilma Johnson (Karen-kaia Livers) takes us on a hilarious and unexpected caper, which could be subtitled "The Queen of Moms Strikes Back." This spirited lady, who works in Robert's supermarket, has raised her daughter as a single parent. The child is due to be valedictorian of her class and has won a scholarship to Harvard. Movin' on up, baby! However, to her shock, Wilma learns the girl has failed a preliminary test for graduation. All might be lost. Years of effort down the tubes. But Wilma is determined to save the day, no matter what it takes. I won't tell you what she resorts to, but you'll be smitten with admiration for her ferocious commitment to the American Dream.
Backbones by Kevin Allman features Carol Sutton as a retired schoolteacher who decides to go into the catering business. She takes on her sister as a partner -- mainly because her sister makes a killer gumbo that everyone always raves about. The sister's gumbo is like the diva in an opera company -- great for business, but cloyingly adored. Most of Backbones takes place during one tony Uptown party. The subtle and not-so-subtle snobbery of the hostess finally provokes a sardonic counterattack. There is a wry, haunting authenticity about the piece.
Sincerely Yours, Aida Feldspar (Mrs.) by Frank Gagnard is a charming, offbeat study of a prim, enthusiastic little soul (Ann Casey) who is a decisive letter writer and, more importantly, the director of the Au Courant Literary Society. Aida has grown surprisingly cosmopolitan through her literary interests. For instance, she is blase about a recently discovered late play by Tennessee Williams titled Lilacs for a Dead Lesbian. Much of the fun of the piece arises from Aida's attempts to corral a literary notable for the edification of her Au Courant colleagues.
Joshua Clark's A Bunch of Baloney is about a most unlikely Orleans Parish Prison inmate (Jessica Podewell). She keeps track of time with baloney sandwiches, in much the same way that an hourglass keeps track of time with grains of sand. This adventurous young thing from Nebraska got busted for skinny-dipping in the fountain at Spanish Plaza. The bright orange prison garb she's wearing is decidedly not her thing. Neither are the baloney sandwiches she has to eat. "I was, like, um, white bread is all carb!" as she says. Her cheeky, nouveau-Valley Girl attitude and diction are strangely winning, maybe because they mask a formidable will. She does know how to stand up for herself when something important is at stake -- like who gets the top bunk!
In Rendezvous by Poppy Z. Brite, we meet a chef (Kris LaMorte), who is taking a short break outside the kitchen. The chef laments for the good old days, when Canal Street still had department stores. He waxes lyrical about Christmas with mama, when the two of them ate green goddess salads in the Rendezvous Restaurant. In the chef's mind, the true emblem of this lost paradise of youth is Mr. Bingle, who used to soar in splendor across the facade of Maison Blanche.
In brief, Native Tongues 4 is a first-class evening of original theater. Don't miss it.
- Jessica Podewell makes for an unlikely Orleans Parish Prison inmate in Joshua Clark';s (right) "A Bunch of Baloney," part of Carl Walker's latest Native Tongues presentation, at Le Chat Noir.