The keynote presentation of the annual New Plays Festival at Le Chat Noir is a new work by a "featured" playwright. Pat Bourgeois was this year's choice. Her offering was a comedy called The Seven Deadly Virtues. Comedy, of course, is Bourgeois' natural habitat. She is remembered for -- among other wry scripts -- Cosmic Debt, Writer's Block (both at Le Chat Noir) and Birds of a Feather (at Theater Marigny).
The Seven Deadly Virtues proceeds, logically enough, in seven scenes -- each representing one of those failings that can land a soul in purgatory or more noxious nether regions. Why "pride," "anger," "sloth," "lust," "gluttony," "envy" and "covetousness" are being called virtues is puzzling -- perhaps it's a sign of the times, like the famous decline of family values. Blame it on the liberals -- if there are still any liberals left out there. Perhaps Bourgeois uses the irony to dissipate the lingering scent of incense that clings to concepts like sin, eternal punishment and divine redemption. In any case, she has created insistently "now" types of characters and placed them in insistently "now" types of situations. For instance, the woman suffering from anger (Diane Lala) jumps into a cab (driven by Michael Sullivan). She is suffering from menopausal symptoms. She wants to "share" some of her problems. "Sharing is really overrated," says the cabbie, in a doomed attempt to shut her up. But no, he will hear all about the torture that her aging ovaries are causing her, not to mention her dry vagina. Then there's memory loss, bladder control (or rather the lack of it), thinning hair, hot flashes, night sweats. The poor guy picks up an ordinary-seeming fare and ends up with the Roseanne Roseannadana of wrath.
The reference to Roseannadana and Saturday Night Live is not out of place, for Deadly Virtues is more a sampler of skits than a series of one-acts. Pride has to do with yuppies and whether they can take revenge on the newest "in" restaurant by making it the newest "out" restaurant. Sloth is a couch-potato guy with a penchant for video games and a floor full of pizza cartons. And so it goes.
Flynn De Marco and Richard Read (of Running With Scissors fame) directed the show, and their fine-tuned sense of silliness contributed to the fun. Ashley Ricord and Paul Soileau ably played the other couple of sinners in these satirical morality tales for our times.
This weekend, by the way, things wrap up at Le Chat's New Plays Festival with original one-acts by Rob Tsarov, Barry Ivker, Laura Watson and Carlos Carrasco.
Another locally penned comedy was recently on the boards at The Big Top Gallery on Clio Street. Trains, billed as "a dark, dark comedy with music" by Timothy Gray, amused -- and perhaps confused -- a sizable audience of adventurous theatergoers. Like Deadly Virtues, this play played with the other meaning of "play" -- as in: a pleasant way to pass some leisure time. However, unlike Deadly Virtues, which was simple and clear in its structure, Trains was a deliberately complicated mosaic of characters and plots. In fact, according to the promotional blurb, 16 actors played three times that many parts. I'll take their word for it. I couldn't keep track of the characters, but there certainly were a lot of them: security guards, mimes, criminals, mothers, daughters, lovers, you name it. And all these characters, enmeshed in their various obsessions, circulated around a single bench in what I took to be a train station.
I suppose the show was meant to be a sort of comic fugue, where a theme was stated, restated, interrupted, developed and eventually concluded. But, to get a sense of the proceedings, you have to imagine a second theme going through the same series of transformations in, and amidst, the transformations of the first theme -- then, a third theme and so on and so forth. It was an interesting, if somewhat unruly, approach. The darkness of the humor did not seem all that dark, at least not to a reader of The Times-Picayune, where a mere murder or two means a better-than-average day.
The music (played by Danielle Maurin on an electronic keyboard -- and occasionally sung by one or two of the actors) did not seem an integral part of the show. Sometimes, as in the love duets, the music was used as a sardonic counterpoint.
Rebecca McNeill Meyers directed the show "in conjunction with" the playwright. The 18 members of the Odd Man Out Theater Company were listed in the playbill, although who played whom was not specified.
All in all, this was an imaginative, though slipshod, production. A clearer focus and a sterner self-critical eye would not be amiss in the future.
- Ashley Ricord and Paul Soileau in Pat Bourgeois' latest comedy, The Seven Deadly Virtues, part of Le Chat Noir's annual New Plays Festival