Well, theater seems to rolling along again. There are still a few auditoriums closed for repairs, but the listings have almost recovered their pre-Katrina bulk.
For instance, the Jefferson Performing Arts Society -- though still housed in its improvised home base of Teatro Wego! -- has launched the world premiere of a new original drama by a local playwright. Pink Collar Crime, written by and starring Yvette Sirker, tells a complex tale about the recent monster hurricane.
In a way, Pink Collar Crime is an "upstairs/downstairs" take on an environmental disaster. Maybe "upscale/downscale" is a more accurate description. Both the up and down sides of the scale are messy, but the upscale messiness is meaner and less sympathetic than the downscale.
The play starts with a volatile African-American teenage prodigy named Tamara (LaMya Holley). Tamara wants to be a historian. She is filling a trunk with artifacts from our lives as a time capsule for future archeologists, so they will be able to understand our civilization after it's been destroyed by Mother Nature.
Tamara's mother, Enjean (Sherri Marina), is a lawyer. She's fighting desperately to keep custody of her child. The other person in the household is Purl (Yvette Sirker). Purl is a dear friend to Enjean and an almost-aunt to Tamara. She's an environmentalist, convinced that a hurricane will one day swamp the city. The chief villain in her eyes is the corporate greed that has pushed the United States to deny global warming and -- closer to home -- destroy the wetlands.
"Corporate greed" brings us to the upscalers in the person of Mr. Bane (J. Patrick McNamara), CEO of the Pan American Oil company, and his wife, Mae Constance (Peggy Walton-Walker). As you might suspect, Bane lives up to his name. He's a cynical power monger and a white-collar criminal, to boot. Mae Constance is a Southern belle who calms her hysteria with martinis.
We also meet a Bane daughter, Penny Moon (Morla Gorrondona). Penny is torn between loyalty to her parents, whom she pretty much despises, and loyalty to the downscalers, who are her friends and whose views she shares.
There's one more character in the mix: Saint Charles (Roscoe Reddix). Saint Charles is a genial, kindhearted young African-American restauranteur. To the horror of the Banes, Penny Moon and Saint Charles fall for each other. They want to get married.
Clearly, there's plenty to chew on here -- and I haven't mentioned some of the side dishes, like child abuse, suicide and cars that run on used cooking oil. This quintessential New Orleans meal is a little too rich rather than a little too bland. But the characters engage us, the dialogue flows and there are refreshing flashes of humor. Under Ray Vrazel's' direction, the able cast consistently draws us into this cyclone of dilemmas.
Over at Rivertown Rep, we have a classic revival. South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein surely needs no introduction. Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning short stories by James Michener, the 1949 Broadway musical also won a Pulitzer.
Gary Rucker (who next season plans to direct all the plays at Rivertown) has put together a graceful, bouncy production. The characters are entertaining and believable. Remarkably, they manage to avoid tumbling too often into the maudlin. Maybe there really are "enchanted evenings" when you meet "a stranger across a crowded room." Or maybe there's just something bracing about the now-faded world of "the good war." Or maybe we've just gotten so used to crescendos of emotion from the pseudo-operas of recent years, like Phantom of the Opera, that we find the Roger and Hammerstein manner light by comparison. For instance, I was amazed at a crucial point in the second act when the young leading man has just been killed (among other catastrophes) -- but nobody sings.
Amy Alvarez creates a charming Nellie Forbush, that lovable cockeyed optimist from Arkansas who joined the nursing corps to see the world and meet different kinds of people. Butch Caire is spot-on as Emile De Beque, the world-weary French planter who flips for the naive American girl. De Beque, by the way, talks about the village he comes from, so he might be a hick, as well, albeit a gallic variety. Renee Saussaye's Bloody Mary is saucy and winning.
With this 29-member cast, there's no way to cite all the good performances, but a tip the hat to Richard Arnold as the other romantic hero, Lt. Cable, and to Earl Scioeaux as that rascal Luther Billis.
Ezra Pound once said a classic is news that stays news. This South Pacific is still news.
- Hassled by The Man: Purl (Yvette Sirker), an environmentalist, worries that a hurricane will one day consume the city in Sirker's latest play, Pink Collar Crime, which concludes its run at Teatro Wego! this weekend.