This year, Le Chat Noir commissioned eight playwrights to write short plays set at the Café; du Monde. The presentation is called The Beignet Plays.
At each performance of The Beignet Plays, there's also a reading of one of this year's winning scripts from Le Chat's Annual One-Act Play Competition. The winner I saw was Last Call by Bradley Troll. It's about the employees of a suicide hotline service. Under Carl Walker's direction, Susan Shumate, Carol Sutton and Beverly Trask aptly bring to life Troll's witty, somewhat dark but amiable humor. There's a surprising and poignant turn in the end. The other winning playwrights are Lucy Faust, for "Thank You for Shopping With Us," and Jennifer Pagan, who wrote "Shoebox Lounge."
Most of the evening, however, is devoted to a production of The Beignet Plays. "Au Lait and Switch," by Jim Fitzmorris, shows us two friends who are political operatives. I should say appear to be political operatives, since the play wanders through the murkiness of local politics, where "knowing" is elusive. Hank and Morgan saw something questionable going down, but was it really what it seemed? And did they happen on it, or were they set up?
Andrew Larimer's "The Art of the Escape" gives us some street entertainers -- a magician and a woman who might be a living statue. There's also a cute, nomadic little tyke who has gotten attached (literally) to the magician.
In "Gesundheit," by Gabrielle Reisman, we meet a young man, James, and his girlfriend, Brazil. James wants to take off for points west. Amid some lively and humorous dialogue, they score points on each other, as they try to come to some kind of goodbye. One of the sources of tension is an accordion that James gave Brazil. She claims it's broken. He wants it back. Another irritant, oddly enough, is the word "gesundheit," which acts as a comic grace note in the play.
Michael Aaron Santos, whom we have known until now as a fine actor, turns playwright with "Victim of Circumstance." This is a deceptive drama in which a hyperactive, often hilarious bigot rants to his best friend against "minorities" and the thousand aggravations they cause him. Black drivers hog the road, fat Latin women collapse drunk on street corners, etc. Things turn suddenly ominous and personal when the best friend takes out a photo of his wife caught in flagrante delicto with the bigot. As if that weren't enough, there's yet another twist to this one. A violent twist. But my lips are sealed.
"Mule Food," by Andrew Vaught, pushes the envelope in the direction of surreal chaos. I don't know what to make of a disheveled waiter who insists he is a "dynasty," or two customers who walk and talk like robots but are listed in the program as government agents.
Peter McElligott's "Not to Be" shows us two friends. One tells the other he smashed his car into a bicycle. He is evasive to the point of incoherence when pressed about where that bike was and if anyone was riding it. It's not easy to imagine how a bike can go down a street without a rider on board.
R.J. Tsarov gives us narrative whiplash (as is his custom) with a piece that shows a disturbed woman at Caf du Monde responding to an offstage voice. But is the woman actually where she appears to be? Or is she in a therapist's office, hypnotized and transported mentally to the realm of fried dough and powdered sugar? The conundrum deepens when a man enters the Caf du Monde scene and seemingly breaks the spell the woman is under. Or is he a memory the woman is suppressing?
Lastly, we return to a simple, touching tale by A.J. Allegra. "Ten Minutes Left" refers to the time that's running out for a man and his grandchild. The kid now lives in Houston with his mom and must soon go back home. These trips to the Caf du Monde are a ritual the grandfather and the boy developed over the years and now continue when they can.
David Hoover ably directed this engaging sampler of short dramas. The cast is spirited. And on the night I saw the show, Le Chat was packed. Not bad for an experimental patchwork of local theater.
- John Barrois
- Marty (Sean Glazebrook) tries to figure out whether Doug (James Bartelle) is onto a great idea or a run-in with the law in "Not to Be" by Peter McElligott.