Ten Years ago, a French friend who is a journalist visited New Orleans. The piece she wrote when she returned to France was titled 'Le Charme Malefique de la Nouvelle Orleans" " that is to say, the "maleficent charm of New Orleans.' One thing that caught her fancy was the go-cup.
I wonder what Michael Martin's time-traveling bachelor from the '40s would say about our little plastic goblets. They are inelegant, but revelers do get to keep drinking. Martin's comic monologue The Bachelor in New Orleans is currently stirring things up at the Pirates Alley Cafe in the French Quarter (after a five-week run at the Hi-Ho Lounge).
The Bachelor is based on Robert Kinney's '40s-era guidebook to the city. The show starts when Martin enters the bar dressed in gray tails, a white vest and white gloves. He also wears saddle shoes and a white derby. He's a sort of ghost of past excess. It's hard to imagine a go-cup in those white-gloved hands, but this bachelor does not let little matters of propriety get between him and his pleasures.
Martin's bachelor is clearly enamored with the city, in good part because of the bars and mixology. At one point, he wonders if the queen city of the South is not an alcoholic mirage. When he goes off on hyperbolic benders about our den of delicious iniquity, praising the 'impossibly beautiful women," etc., he does sound like a public relations man on the verge of delirious tremors.
It's all tongue-in-cheek. At one point, he describes drinks much like Shakespeare's seven ages of man " the Ramos Gin Fizz, for instance, is a sprightly boulevardier. The bachelor shoots a coy barb at the abstemious set with a reference to teetotaler Adolph, before continuing his bibulous catalogue through the Absinthe Drip, Café Brulot, Café Diablo and the Obituary Cocktail.
Next, the bachelor plunges into a discourse on hookerdom. He gives a history of local women of 'purchasable virtue." On the night I saw the show, a young man came into the bar at that moment. The quick-witted Martin called out, 'Welcome, you're just in time for the prostitutes." The guy resisted an apparent impulse to flee and ordered a drink. In fact, people came in at various times merely looking for a drink. Martin, who played easily with the audience in general, used these new, unsuspecting victims to good effect.
But back to prostitution. Most locals know the history " more or less " of the scarlet world in this port. At least they know about the infamous Storyville district which boasted 'bordellos of splendor such as only unlimited money and unlimited bad taste could purchase." The red-light district also is remembered as one of the birthplaces of jazz " another Crescent City concoction the world got drunk on.
The show goes on in this manner, veering from history to an eccentric, somewhat racy guidebook on what's to be enjoyed here " with the twist that the guidebook itself speaks from 60 years in the past. It doesn't escape that history. Though Martin, in 21st-century PC fashion, includes women in the category of bachelors, this is never really convincing, and the humor retains a just-between-us-guys type of raciness.
In any case, we get a glimpse of the French Quarter in the '40s: of Bourbon Street, of artists and their galleries, of writers tap-tapping away at their typewriters, of gloomy book stores with oddball clerks. The bachelor is then swept up in Mardi Gras, vows to repent on Ash Wednesday, breaks his vows at a bar with some friends and ends up sloshed to the gills as he reels back to the insipid place that he calls home.
Martin gives an energetic performance in this demanding hourlong laugh fest. He convincingly portrays 'le charme malefique" not only of New Orleans, but of alcoholic friends, who can be both witty and overbearing. Martin plans to continue The Bachelor at Pirates Alley and other locations through the spring, so you will have a chance to enjoy the seamy side of life up close, but from a safe distance in time and imagination.
- In his one-man show, The Bachelor in New Orleans, Michael Martin distills the French Quarter's entertaining vices.