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Kingfish for Life



The Kingfish is back in New Orleans and once again packing them in. Not the play Kingfish that did a stint on Off Broadway in 1991, after many, many miles on the road in Louisiana. That Kingfish (co-written by Larry L. King of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas fame) starred John "Spud" McConnell, under the direction of Perry Martin. This same pair of local galoots teamed up again in 2002 to channel yet another Long family icon in a riveting script by Jason Berry called Earl Long in Purgatory. Earl Long also logged many miles on the road and celebrated the sale of its 20,000th ticket before taking a rest.

Now, a third Perry Martin/Spud McConnell/Long dynasty epic is onstage at the True Brew Theater. It's called Miz Caraway and the Kingfish. Six-time Big Easy Entertainment Award winner Janet Shea plays the Miz in question. So there is quite a bit of voltage onstage in this amusing glimpse at politics, Louisiana style.

Amusing is the operative word, for the show benefits from a touch of comic flamboyance. Although, of course, there are some shadows; the Great Depression, to start with, which was in full swing in 1932, when the story begins. Hattie Caraway enters in widow's black and covers her face with her handbag to foil the paparazzi. She is one senator who doesn't relish a photo-op -- partly because she's getting an overdose of press attention due to her gender. Caraway was appointed to the seat upon the death of her husband, Thaddeus. The appointment made her the second woman ever to serve in that august body. The previous woman senator, Rebecca Felton, had served a "courtesy" appointment of one day! Caraway was given a year -- on the unstated understanding that she would then be replaced in an election by a man. After all, who had ever heard of a woman running for the U.S. Senate?

In blatant contrast to Caraway's reticent entrance, Huey Long charges into the senate, wearing a white suit, two-tone shoes and making as much noise as possible. "The Kingfish is here!" he bellows to all and sundry, but most especially to the gallery, which is full of his fans.

The script, written by Arkansans Nancy Hendricks and Grady Jim Robinson (with, I am assured, some telling improvements by our own Michael P. Cahill), traces the unlikely friendship between these two senators, who sit at adjoining desks in the back of the chamber. There is no big drama going on, and it's hard to say why the interaction between these two characters holds one's interest. But it does. In fact, it's a great deal of fun. Certainly, the Kingfish is a colorful scalawag, and John McConnell has the heft and the elan to pull off this one-of-a-kind, slightly deranged fox of a populist. If his Kingfish is the irresistible force, Janet Shea's Caraway is the immovable object. It's quite a match.

In the second act, the Kingfish takes his show northward to help his neighbor. He arrives with sound trucks and "deducts" (the money extorted from state workers). In the course of Caraway's successful campaign, Long makes 39 speeches to more than 200,000 people. Ironically, Long's presidential ambitions are curtailed by an assassin's bullet, and his own widow fills out his senate term.

In brief: a fascinating history lesson presented in a delightful and whimsical form. Chances are this latest installment of the Long chronicles will be around for awhile.

Meanwhile, at Le Petit, Sean Patterson, who seems to be pro tem honcho of the children's theater, recently put together a lovely revival of Cinderella Batistella, that perennial favorite with book and lyrics by Bob Bruce and David Cuthbert and music by the late Fred Palmisano.

The show is a local-flavored retelling of the classic tale, complete with king cakes, Mardi Gras royalty and a "ferry" godmother from Algiers. Robin Baudier played the downtrodden, but ultimately triumphant, Cindy. Jennifer Richardson played the evil stepmother. Cammie West and Frannie Rosenberg were her even eviler daughters. Others in the lively cast were Dian Roudeze, Mark Burton, Danny Marin, Michael Sullivan and director Patterson. The staging cleverly mimicked a carnival parade, which led naturally to the second-act finale "There Can't Be Too Many Parades!" There was a lot of good singing and dancing and a healthy dollop of horse play. The kids seemed to love it almost as much as their parents did.

Hattie Caraway (Janet Shea) and Huey Long (John McConnell) form an unlikely alliance in the U.S. Senate in Miz Caraway and the Kingfish, now on the boards at True Brew.
  • Hattie Caraway (Janet Shea) and Huey Long (John McConnell) form an unlikely alliance in the U.S. Senate in Miz Caraway and the Kingfish, now on the boards at True Brew.

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