Is there something about New Orleans that draws unlikely people into the spotlight?
One of my first journalistic assignments after I arrived here in the early 1970s, was to tag around after Frank Minyard, the trumpet-playing Orleans Parish coroner. From the ghoulish depths of the old morgue (a habitat worthy of Morgus the Magnificent), it was quite a leap to the glittering bandstand at the old Al Hirt Club on Bourbon Street. But the cool cat of the catacombs wasn't fazed.
Minyard is far from unique. Recently, on stage at the Anthony Bean Community Theater, I've seen Gail Glapion (of School Board fame) holding her own in a comedy role; City Councilman Oliver Thomas, after two impressive outings, is no doubt being screen-tested by Spielberg even as I write.
Over at The Times-Picayune, Martin Covert goes about his business disguised as a mild-mannered advertising reporter -- but, when the need arises, he ducks into the nearest broom closet to emerge in a nondescript costume with ACA (All Purpose Character Actor) emblazoned on his chest.
But to go back to my early days here: Imagine my surprise when I saw the "Rodeo Girl Monologue" in Carl Walker's celebrated production of Talking With (not long after my encounter with the musical coroner) and learned the svelte, tough-talkin', down-home honey in jeans was none other than Nell Nolan -- society editor of The Times-Picayune.
Recently, at le chat noir, Ms. Nolan and director Walker teamed up once again. Monologues & Music for Money, Honey was a series of solo pieces, written and performed by Nolan. Walker staged the show and helped edit the script. The money in the venal-sounding title, in fact, went to the Red Cross to help in the relief effort following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Monologues and Music had the feeling of a genteel entertainment -- a throwback to a time before mass media, when the intelligentsia and the aristocrats both shared a love of putting on shows to while away the evenings.
Off to one side of the stage, in a spotlight, sat the baby grand. A talented duo, Michael Howard and Dr. Quinn Peeper, played four piano pieces from the classical repertoire. When they finished, a stylish grasshopper with lime green hair, jacket, slacks and pumps, a pair of fetching antennae and rhinestone studded shades entered on the main stage. "You didn't expect this, did ya?" the creature taunted. And she had us there. The grasshopper, of course, was Nolan, who proceeded to recite a lighthearted history of Aesop, written in naive rhymed verse.
After another musical interlude, the monologues began. The first character was a Mexican lady named Rosita, who works in a Bourbon Street Boutique, just down the block from Galatoire's. Her woes include the owner ("a fat little Chihuahua") and the owner's son -- an evil-smelling nerd who says he prefers mature women ("like Sophia Loren and Becky Allen"). But Rosita will get her revenge for the indignities she suffers at the hands of these obnoxious gringos.
Next, we encounter an Uptown housewife. She has always identified closely with her daughter, destined to be "Queen of Olympians, like I was." Amid talk of slumber parties, softball games and the Newcomb art department, we gradually learn of an automobile accident -- a near-death experience that brought a radical change in the mother's life and the daughter's outlook. The future her mother planned for her will never happen.
For the third monologue, we remain Uptown. But the woman we meet is more haughty and snobbish. Drinking brandy from a large snifter, she rattles on about Lalique crystal, Aubusson rugs and people who claim to be kin but can't be located on the family tree. Gradually, she leads us into an incredible Creole Gothic tale that centers around the gift of some lavish jewels. Rape, theft, romance, betrayal and long-meditated revenge fill this lurid chronicle.
Finally, we travel downtown to meet a feisty, beer-drinking Italian divorcee, whose daughter has changed her name from Angela Squalito to Angelle Shaw and married into society.
Each of the stories evokes a different a world. Together, they form a kind of sampler, where you get just a taste and then move on. The characters are well-imagined and familiar without being trite. A versatile and winning performer, Nolan creates a distinct persona for each of the monologues. There is an easy-going, low-key mood to the show -- despite the sometimes dire happenings described.
Monologues and Music did turn-away business and will be rescheduled at le chat noir for Nov. 18 and 19.
- Nell Nolan teamed up once again with Carl Walker for her entertaining sketch pieces that form Monologues & Music for Money, Honey.