How to characterize the year 2001 in theater? I would say the striking thing was a bumper crop of original plays. A quick glance at clippings and playbills gives me more than 30 productions penned by local authors.
But before going into more detail -- with a nod to CNN (to which we've all become addicted since 9/11) -- let's have an update on the year's headlines.
We've gained some new theaters and lost some old ones. Anthony Bean opened The Anthony Bean Community Theater and Acting School on Carrollton Avenue in the Riverbend area and mounted a program of plays with African-American themes. Down river in Bywater, Drama!, a company specializing in gay and lesbian issues, set up shop at the Cowpokes Theater Space. Among the cowpokes present was old theater hand Charles Kerbs, once again writing, acting and directing after an extended sabbatical. On the down side, we have sad news from the Pickery: The attractive little warehouse theater that was just getting on its feet is doomed to make way for an extension to the ever-larger, ever-uglier Convention Center.
There was also some reshuffling. Ricky Graham and Roy Smith set up as the in-house production company at True Brew -- but, we are told, they have recently pulled out of that arrangement. Rosary O'Neill stepped down after 15 years as founding artistic director/resident playwright at Southern Rep. So we begin 2002 with a mixture of hope and trepidation concerning the future of these two crucial venues.
And this brings us back to original plays, since both of these theaters served up locally penned productions of note. Southern Rep gave us a reprise of Big Easy winner Cherries Jubilee by Lynne Goldman, Marcy Nathan, Harriet Nelson and Joyce Pulitzer. This was followed by the historical drama Degas by Rosary O'Neill and the imaginative, if raucous, Licking the Bowl by Barret O'Brien and the Measle Bumpkin puppeteers. Over at True Brew, Ricky Graham unveiled a new, semi-autobiographical comedy When Ya Smilin' and rounded up his coterie of congenial zanies for a revival of his Nighttime Naughties. René Piazza celebrated the 10th anniversary of his hellzapoppin' deconstruction of Charles Dickens with A Christmas Carol: The Whole Story.
The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane (and the Red Noses Company) scored a hit with a political thriller, With Malice Towards All by Jim Fitzmorris. And Barbara Motley, chatelaine of le chat noir, took so many chances with local authors that she apotheosized into a kind of Big Easy version of La Mama. Among the most interesting works were the experimental Explane by Ryan Reineke and Christopher Lee (as a part of the "mikko Presents" series) and Hellhounds by R. J. Tsarov. Tsarov, in fact, had a boom year. His Love Sauce at the Shim Sham Club was one of the most literate and enjoyable of the year's productions.
Here, it's worth pausing to note another facet of this new wave. Ricky Graham, René Piazza, Barret O'Brien, Ryan Reineke and Christopher Lee all directed and acted in their own productions. R. J. Tsarov, meanwhile, directed both his plays. To this list, one may add Kathy Randels, who performed in and directed her visually stunning Rumours of War at the CAC; Michael Cahill, who acted in his own Dorothy and Alan at le chat noir; Tristan Codrescu, who directed and acted in his Cirque de la Conquista at the CAC; Nell Nolan, who performed her monologues at le chat noir; and Yvette Sirker, who directed her script Troubled Waters at Dillard. The trend was definitely against specialization.
Of course, despite the remarkable upsurge in original works, most of the time local stages were filled with revivals or new imports from New York.
Here's a grab bag of memorable moments. The lovely heroine, Flynn De Marco's Marguerite, and her solicitous nursie, Bob Edes' Nanine, in Running With Scissors' Camille at the A.R.K. Gavin Mahlie's riveting portrayal of the doomed Richard II at Tulane. Dog and Pony's entrancing al fresco A Misdummer Night's Dream, with its equestrians and elfin children. Troi Bechet's golden-throated incarnation of Billie Holiday in her final decline at Southern Rep. The fine tuned, fascinating minimalism of Art at Le Petit; The rambunctious nihilism of The Lonesome West at the CAC. The appealing gang of taxi drivers in Wendell Pierce's Jitney at NOCCA. The unexpected delight of mikko's Hollywood series, in which local actors gave dramatic readings of famous film scripts. The stunned silence at the end of the first act of Tommye Myrick's A Lesson Before Dying at Southern Rep.
And so -- with the usual deep apologies to the many theater folk whose efforts were not mentioned-- see you next year.
- Writer-director R.J. Tsarov's Love Sauce (pictured) along with his Hellhounds helped spark a new wave of originally written local theater productions in 2001.