Year's end. And what a year! Some things haven't changed. Let's start there. (It's reassuring.) Take Rene Piazza. He once again donned his Scrooge costume and turned loose The Whole Story of that yuletide classic. The whole story, for Piazza, includes not only the three ghosts, but also Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and sundry other unexpected intruders. There was, however, a difference in this year's madcap Carol. Piazza's comedy effervesced in his stylish new theater in the Clearview Shopping Center. A second familiar face popped up at One Eyed Jacks in the French Quarter, when the loveable Grenadine McGunkle (Dorian Rush) hosted her annual trailer-trash musical -- accompanied by the other Running With Scissorites. Roland "Butch" Caire again put on his white beard and crimson snowsuit and gave us another true-life bio of that jolly old elf from the North Pole. Last, but not least, our gutsy little Mehitabel, Le Chat Noir, again proved there's still a dance or two yet in the not-so-old girl by offering a cornucopia of original cabaret shows. In short, there were some shreds of traditional Christmas in our battered theater scene.
But, turning back for a look at earlier events in this cataclysmic year is a bit daunting. pre-K New Orleans and post-K New Orleans are on either side of that Grand Canyon called Katrina. The plain fact is most of our theaters are shut down -- temporarily, we hope; temporarily, we believe. Nonetheless, that void makes for a weird and unique end-of-the-year roundup. Le Petit may have skipped a beat as the nation's oldest continuing theater, but it plans to reopen Jan. 5 with Ricky Graham's ... And the Ball and All.
So, this may be the first-ever backward glance toward the future. The biggest question on everyone's minds as 2005 draws to a close is what will 2006 bring. We anxiously wait for the house lights to dim and the stage lights to come up at Le Petit (Jan. 5), Southern Rep (May), Jefferson Performing Arts Society (spring?), Anthony Bean Community Theater (Jan. 6), the True Brew and the Contemporary Arts Center (Jan. 7) -- to name just a few of the more prominent auditoriums that have gone dark. In the same spirit, we pause to light a candle for the many theater troupes, whose members were scattered and resources were strained to the limit by that which the insurance companies cannily refer to as "wind storm damage" (because, if what you suffered was "water damage" -- vulgarly known as flooding -- you may not get a cent.)
Nonetheless, there was life pre-K and there was theater pre-K. So, let's take a quick stroll down memory lane. Where better to start than with the Anthony Bean Community Theater, which also took a stroll down memory lane by featuring the Dashiki Divas -- a wonderful group of African American actresses who grabbed our attention over the course of several decades in the late, great Dashiki Project Theater. Housewarming, the play that featured the Divas, was written by Phyllis Clemons, one of our veteran local scribes.
Speaking of local scribes -- once again, this year saw a welcome outpouring of original work. Ricky Graham and David Cuthbert brought back At the Club Toot Sweet on Bourbon Street at Le Petit. Burn K-Doe Burn, Rob Florence's tribute to the self-proclaimed "King of the Universe" kept things bopping at the Rock 'N Bowl. Le Chat Noir gave us a festival of one-acts. Le Chat also offered his fourth edition of Native Tongues, Carl Walker's ongoing collection of locally penned monologues. That nonlinear provocateur R.J. Tsarov puzzled and amused us with his latest piece, Otherwise Harmless, at One Eyed Jacks. Southern Rep, in addition to a weeklong festival of readings of new works, produced John Biguenet's The Vulgar Soul. And those unclassifiable rapscallions at Running With Scissors, who don't know any better than to scurry about while carrying pointed cutting implements, kept up their remarkable pace with The Gulls (a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds) and a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mystery.
Of course, there are many other facets of the 2005 theater scene -- besides the originals -- that are worth remembering. But, the ominous intervention of Katrina makes one think of what could be lost. And, while solid productions of plays from elsewhere are a joy and a necessity, the most endangered species in the post-Katrina age is the New Orleans playwright. Let's hope the hometown habitat for that odd creature makes a comeback.
- Barret O'Brien and Diana Shortes starred in local writer John Biguenet's debut as a playwright with The Vulgar Soul i>, one of many impressive original works at Southern Rep.