Sue Gonczy is up there behind you, lurking in the dim glow of the light booth, while you sip your beverage at your table in Le Chat Noir Cabaret. Gonczy is often credited for "lights." But, if you have the good fortune to go see Naughty Bits, Ricky Graham's latest one-man musical comedy revue, you may notice that Gonczy is pitching in with the vocals as well as sliding the dimmers. In fact, her songstress impulse is the reason for the show.
Naughty Bits is a revival of numbers that Graham performed in the mid-to-late '80s at the Mint Bar on Decatur Street. Gonczy sang back-up at those gigs. Waxing nostalgic for the old days, Gonczy coaxed Graham into bringing out a somewhat updated version to the Chat.
Naughty Bits is described as "dirty jokes, risqu songs and big wigs." In fact, the show is fuller and richer than that burley-house blurb seems to promise. True, Bits begins with trash. Literally. For a disposed-of Graham (no doubt reeking from days on the curb in this time of erratic garbage pickup) croons:
"Tonight, I ain't doin' Shakespeare. / Tonight, I'm bein' crude and brash. / If you want heavy drama / go visit your mama. / Tonight, I'm only doin' trash."
The tune was written by Jefferson Turner, who accompanies Graham on the piano. Several other ditties were penned by the late Fred Palmisano, who collaborated on the Mint shows. In addition to the original songs, there are various spoofs of well-known hits. Bette Davis, for instance, sings "The Lady is a Camp." Well, you got that right! Graham transmogrifies often into the fair sex -- thanks, in part, to the glorious costumes by Cecile Casey Covert and Amanda Hebert's wild wigs. In fact, once Graham is liberated from his trash-can get-up, he reappears as that red, white and blue country flame: Murleen Dolly Lynn Olivia Nutria Laura Dean Smith. This baby's got more names than a Hapsburg and morals that would make Vlad-the-Impaler blush. In one of her tunes, she boasts of "a three way on the freeway in a trailer of love."
May West is another salty madam who struts and frets her moment on the stage. Built like a brick etcetera (thanks to sartorial cantilevers), West manages to put some sizzle into ornithology with her ode to the cockatoo (that comes out sounding like "or two" -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more!)
As usual, Graham is poised and funny and makes sure his audience has a good time. Turner, by the way, also plays piano in I'm Still Here, Me!, Graham's other current original show at the Chat. Hopefully, these divertimenti are only the beginning for this talented duo.
Another original work is on the boards at the Actor's Theatre of New Orleans. Ren Piazza not only wrote Two 4 the Road, he also directed it (with an assist from Chelle Duke) and he appears in it. Two 4 the Road is not a play, it's a sampler of 15 short scenes. Some are comic skits, some are mini-dramas. The whole thing is performed by four agile actors -- Lucas Harms, Michael Santos, Michael Sullivan and Piazza. Needless to say, the cast gets quite a workout with so many and such varied characters.
To comment, even briefly, on each of these scenes would require a lot of ink. The situations range from the real to the fantastic. In Display of Emotions, for instance, two male department store dummies plan a tryst with two lady dummies upstairs in "swim suits." In other skits, we visit the antechambers of hell and of heaven. On the real side, we watch a high school reunion where a former bully is confronted by his former victim and we see a regular Joe beg forgiveness from a friend who has been comatose in a hospital bed for six months, since the regular Joe crashed their car into a truck while drunk at the wheel.
Two 4 the Road is uneven. There are peaks, where the writing and acting come together and draw us in. There are valleys, where things don't quite work. Curiously, these peaks and valleys are scattered through both the serious and comic skits. Sometimes, in fact, they are scattered in a single skit. But, the show is a bold departure for Piazza, who has mostly given us spoofs and mostly appeared on stage as a comic character. Here he stretches. He takes chances.
Two 4 the Road could use trimming and focusing. A "best of" version (with, say, the weakest one-third left on the cutting room floor) is intriguing to contemplate.
- Ricky Graham stars in both Naughty Bits and IÕm Still Here, Me!