The Voodoo Mystere Lounge recovered quickly from the Gustav evacuation and served up some fascinating one-person monologues. New Orleans' own Jim Fitzmorris is best known as an accomplished playwright not to mention associate artistic director of The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane. He is stepping out as a performer in his enigmatically titled Jim Fitzmorris Puts Marlin Gusman in a Hurt Locker.
Sitting at a desk in front of a backdrop of trompe l'oeil bookshelves, Fitzmorris looks like an amicable cultural icon (say an updated version of Alistair Cooke), except for a wicked gleam in his eyes and a surprising volatility in his manner. He wins us over with his full-throttle, at times explosive, love of absurdity he cites the Oxford English Dictionary, in which definitions of the word 'thing" fill 16 pages. Or a factoid the vegetable with the highest nicotine content (except for tobacco) is eggplant. This is apropos of quitting smoking an injunction laid on Fitzmorris by his deceased aunt Mikey, who appears to him in a dream.
None of Fitzmorris' unexpected revelations are merely stated. They ricochet in barrages of caustic nonsense. Aunt Mikey and the rest of his huge, extended family seem to haunt him, actually or metaphorically. Some of his best scripts, in fact, grow out of his experience as the scion of a political family. Although he used to attend family reunions for the material, he finally gave it up. He can't take it any more.
Fitzmorris glances from time to time at a notebook on the desk to stay somewhat on track, but he also asks the audience if they have any questions. He's clearly game for improvising with whatever is thrown at him.
Besides quitting smoking, Fitzmorris says he gave up drinking. Why? He offers you the explanation you prefer. The dirty story: "I woke up after a threesome and didn't remember what happened." The moving story: 'I heard "hey' from the barstool next to mine. It was my dad. He said, "You can come home anytime. You always have a place.'" Is this postmodern biography or old fashioned yarn-spinning?
Fitzmorris also throws out many zingers about the Crescent City and Louisiana.
"We heard you were coming, so we baked you a pot hole."
He talks about how the rest of the country alters as you travel from one place to another, but the changes are gradual. When you hit Louisiana, however, you get whiplash from the abrupt, radical strangeness. If there is a sadness fueling this humor, it probably springs from the loss of the way things were and their replacement by "McStarDunks" (McDonald's, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts). He is particularly scathing when he refers to 'the NPR crowd, sipping their lattés."
Fitzmorris proves himself an inventive and thoroughly entertaining host. Is he just being himself or are we seeing a fine acting job in which he portrays a fictitious Fitzmorris? Who knows? He promises the show will be different each week of the run.
Fitzmorris' droll rhapsody shared the stage with Moon Cove, written and performed by Amy Woodruff, on the night I went. She presented a one-person show in which she brought to life an imaginary protagonist named Anielle Theriot.
Moon Cove is moody in fact, spectral. It begins with a dark figure playing a simple Cajun melody on violin. When the lights come up, the figure, Anielle, sings a tune. The drama is set in Cajun country, and one of its themes is, as Anielle puts it: "Those who were not born in the bayous do not understand the bond that connects us to the place."
The show is a multimedia event with projected slides and a somewhat protracted lighting of candles. A ghastly antagonist called Feu Follet ("an undulating ball of white light") spreads terror among the isolated dwellers of the swamp. Feu Follet appears at night and causes its victims to lose their way and drown.
More horrors are revealed in an old book Anielle finds. In it, family members speak again and again of this evil spirit, whom they also call the Marquise. All the pieces of a ghostly puzzle seem to be there in Moon Cove, but it is not easy to put them together sufficiently to see the whole picture.
Woodruff performs with a calm intensity. She holds our attention, even when we're unsure of the narrative " the story, like the locale, is murky and suggestive.
- Jim Fitmorris' one man show is equal parts confession, obsession and extrapolation.