For some people outraged about changes in Bywater in recent years, Jim Fitzmorris has some words.
"Seventeen blocks aren't New Orleans," Fitzmorris says.
Bywater — or the area roughly stretching from Faubourg Marigny to Poland Avenue between St. Claude Avenue and the river — has become the focus of discussion about gentrification, racial politics and change, but it doesn't represent the city as a whole, he says. And some of this discussion isn't new.
In his solo show, Be a New Orleanian: A Swearing In Ceremony, Fitzmorris entertained lifelong and new New Orleanians with a humorous treatise on what it means to live in New Orleans. It cited a litany of local high schools and institutions, such as McKenzie's Bakery, and embraced changes spurred by rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
In his latest work, The Last Lagniappe, which runs July 6-30 at The Theatre at St. Claude, Fitzmorris picks up where he left off when he swore in citizens of New Orleans in the prior show (2,000 people, he says). This hourlong monologue is a city advisory that addresses more than Bywater.
"If you are enjoying your 17-block argument over what it means to be a New Orleanian, here are things you haven't thought about in regards to race, politics and gentrification in New Orleans," Fitzmorris says.
While Be a New Orleanian unfolded through six tips for living in the city, Last Lagniappe is essentially a trio of ghost stories, Fitzmorris says.
One of the stories, "Segregation in the Oaks," is about a public pool that once hosted swimmers in City Park, on a spot later occupied by Orleans Parish Sheriff Charles Foti's annual haunted house. The pool ended up closed rather than integrated under Mayor Victor Schiro, Fitzmorris says.
Other ghosts inhabit New Orleans East.
"Exit 249/248 is the moral equivalent of Room 237 in The Shining," Fitzmorris says.
The show combines some stranger than fiction New Orleans stories, insights into local politics and introspection about the city's soul. But Fitzmorris isn't up in arms about the state of the city or the changing face of Bywater.
"I tell people, 'New Orleans is fine,'" he says. "If you don't think New Orleans is fine, go to the St. Dominic's Church fair. If you don't think New Orleans is fine, go to any Catholic parish in town and go to one of their fish fries. Or go to one of the little neighborhood restaurants in Gentilly. New Orleans is fine."
The show also is a farewell address for Fitzmorris' (and brother Ryan Fitzmorris) two-year tenure at The Theatre at St. Claude, located behind AllWays Lounge. Their lease of the space ends following the show.
Fitzmorris has written many plays about New Orleans, including works about rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina (From a Long Way Off) and A Truckload of Ink, about the demise of a New Orleans newspaper. He's writing The Battle of New Orleans — about an upscale food court in a changing neighborhood — for The NOLA Project. The show will debut in fall. He's also writing a drama for another local theater, and it will premiere in 2018.