In 2003, Le Chat Noir dedicated 75 percent of its programming to work created by New Orleans artists. The theater was home to fourteen new plays, musical revues, or cabaret shows conceived by local artists." So writes Barbara Motley in her introduction to Le Chat's third annual one-act play contest, which recently ran in repertory with an evening of new works by local favorite R.J. Tsarov.
Getting to see all the one-acts, plus the Tsarov, pieces required some tenacity. The evening of one-acts that I caught featured three plays: Window Treatments by Laura L. Watson, Facades by Jennifer Sacks and Writer's Block by Pat Bourgeois.
Window Treatments was a monologue, delivered with grace and conviction by Ashley Ricord, as The Young Woman, under the direction of Ryan Rilette. Who is "The Young Woman"? Where is she? And who is she talking to? Those questions are part of the dynamics of the play. The answers are never 100 percent clear. But they are clear enough to be fascinating. She is definitely incarcerated and she is talking to someone, a lawyer perhaps, who she thinks can help her get out. "The Young Woman" comes from a moneyed background, and she's in trouble because of youthful high jinks by her brother that took a tragic turn and for which she received the blame.
Facades, directed by Perry Martin, takes us into that battleground of gender that threatens to become an issue in the presidential election. Ryan Reinike, Kelly Rosher and Buffie Rogers entertainingly run the rapids of sexual identity and matrimony. Reinike plays David, who is gay and conspiring to marry his childhood friend Lynn (Rosher), who is a lesbian, in order to end the torture of being set up by their parents with dates of the opposite sex. There is considerable humor, but it's not camp, bigger-than-life humor. It's the bittersweet irony of friendship, confusion and pain.
In Writer's Block, Bourgeois follows Amy (Leah Loftin) who leaves rural Louisiana for New Orleans in the grand Tennessee Williams tradition of drinking bohemian life to the dregs. In fact, the play at times seems like a spoof of Vieux Carre. Despite stalkers, foot fetishists and a downtrodden Lucrezia Borgia type poisoner, Amy would perhaps be better off writing of her own bucolic weirdness. Under J. Daniel Stanley's direction, the cast (which includes Nicole Brooks, Maggie Eldred and Andy English) does a credible job with this odd, comic sketch.
Across town at the Anthony Bean Community Theater, the emphasis was on the sort of old that stays new. Eubie Blake, the great African-American musician and composer, was not only one of the immortals in the customary symbolic sense, but nearly one of the immortals in the literal sense. He and his partner Noble Sissle broke into Broadway with shows such as Shuffle Along, which in 1921 was an early all-black hit. Decades later, Blake, when he was in his late 90s, memorably commented on longevity, "If I knew I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself."
In any case, Eubie! A Musical Revue (which opened in New York City in 1978) offers an irresistible medley of 22 songs. Some are already burned into your brain, like "I'm Just Wild About Harry." But even those favorites take on a new and fresh appeal in Eubie!. Others, no doubt known to Blake fans, are fabulous discoveries for first-timers. "If You've Never Been Vamped by a Brown Skin, You've Never Been Vamped At All," for instance, is a flat-out, delectable outrage of a novelty number. And there are plenty more like that.
Leo Jones, well known from his years at NORD Theater and forays onto other stages, got seriously involved in this lovely trifle. He directed, musical directed, choreographed and took a role. A tip of the hat on all counts.
The show was presented in a simple, effective manner: a bare stage with a small platform, a follow spot, a cyclorama that changed color, a striking use of silhouettes and some spiffy costumes (by Jones and Maria Darnell) draped on some spiffy ladies. The visuals, in short, were a treat. But it was the way one thing flowed into the next that was the greatest pleasure -- that, and the charm of a cast who seemed to enjoy being up there together. The many dance numbers were inventive and fun. The cast was large, featuring Tory Andrus, Idella Johnson, Althea Williams, Keshua Jones, Alex Read, David Raymond, Jamie Jones, Brittny Barnes and Mia McClain among others. In short, Eubie! was a lighthearted romp that left you smiling.
- The spiffy women of Eubie!, presented recently at Anthony Bean, looked like they were having a good time together going through the paces of Eubie Blake's greatest songs.