The Uninvited at Gallier House through Feb. 14
The Uninvited, Goat in the Road Productions’ new show, adds another chapter of immersive historical drama to its successful The Stranger Disease of 2018. Set and performed in Gallier House, The Uninvited explores with imagination and theatrical flair how a real-life incident might have impacted the actual Gallier family and their household staff members. The time frame may be distant, but the story resonates in our own era.
It is 1874, six years after architect James Gallier, Jr.’s untimely death. His wife and two of his daughters, with the assistance of their cook and housekeeper, are preparing to entertain a gentleman caller, a possible beau for the younger daughter.
A mob of young men passes by outside on Royal Street, seeking to re-segregate the integrated public high school next door in the former LaLaurie Mansion. As the thugs carry out their plot, an uninvited guest disrupts the Gallier household with dire consequences.
As with Stranger Disease, Chris Kaminstein and Kiyoko McCrae serve as lead writers and directors. They have created a phenomenal intimacy between actors & audiences, and, through the script’s language and overall playing style, an excellently evocative atmosphere that takes us back nearly 150 years. Seeing this story of race and class in its actual setting, an important French Quarter locale and popular tourist destination, provides an ineffably powerful authenticity.
After the initial scene, also like Stranger Disease, audience members at The Uninvited can decide which character(s) they wish to follow throughout the 1859 home as the action occurs on two floors and in the courtyard. With nine characters, there is a lot to observe; wisely, as with Stranger Disease, the 50-minute performance is played twice so you can take in most, if not all, of the narrative.
One certainly doesn’t want to miss the most dramatic scenes (hint: follow that uninvited guest), but moments featuring one character often have the most delicate writing. Occasionally, you might even have the pleasure of being the sole observer of a particular figure.
Comparisons may be odious but, much as I enjoyed The Stranger Disease, The Uninvited is a better crafted, more involving show; conflicts have been sharpened, the drama heightened. Not unimportantly, the layout of Gallier House, as opposed to Madame John’s Legacy where Disease played, allows for a better flow of audience traffic.
Kaminstein, McCrae & Co. are at their most affecting when focusing on the personal stories. When they start shoehorning in too much history (i.e., exposition) and generalized philosophy (“All of us deserve fun. None of us get it except sometimes by drinking.”), The Uninvited slackens. This is especially true in the talky first kitchen scene despite the best efforts of the actors.
Whether in the kitchen, parlor, courtyard or bedroom, the entire cast, four of them veterans of Stranger Disease, work flawlessly together as an ensemble and in any combination thereof.
Shannon Flaherty makes Gallier’s widow Aglae tough and somewhat haughty but not unreasonable given the demands of the day. Flaherty combines delicacy with strength, both the inner positive kind and a less pleasing steeliness, in a finely wrought, complex portrayal.
Faced with a possibly loveless marriage, as daughter Blanche, Grace Kennedy bundles quiet desperation with a keen intellect to create a woman born probably 100 years too soon.
April Louise imbues the cook Charity with quiet dignity and righteous fury. The image of Tenaj L. Jackson’s Rose, a teacher at that high school and initially full of bubbly joy, forced to hide in a pantry is haunting. Despite Jackson’s accomplished performance, however, in the moment of crisis, Rose goes too much to pieces (there’s even a line stuck in to explain her behavior); the writers/directors could have employed a less melodramatic approach to depict her justifiable fears.
Ian Hoch masterfully oozes subdued evil as a “friend” of the Galliers. Watch as he flicks his tongue like a snake, devilishly licking his lips with wicked glee and so different from his bon vivant in The Stranger Disease.
Jessica Lozano brings a perfectly calibrated, subtly comic bearing to the dutiful housekeeper Rene; her tale of an overactive chicken is priceless.
Brian Egland as a journalist, Darci Jens Fulcher as Blanche’s older sister, and Dylan Hunter as a clerk who’s Blanche’s suitor all contribute exemplary work as well. Kaci Thomassie’s exquisite period costumes, all made from scratch, seem as though they emerged from the Gallier House’s closets, untouched since the 19th century.
With The Uninvited, Goat in the Road has provided another wonderful miniature entertainment of New Orleanians in extremis. While ideally it should be presented year-round, it runs only until February 14 and apparently tickets are going fast. Consider this your invitation.
[UPDATE: The Uninvited will resume performances after Mardi Gras, February 27–March 21.]
Something Rotten! at Le Petit Theatre through Feb. 9
A nunnery? Nay, get thee to Le Petit! Go, forsooth, for to see that most pleasingly hilarious musical Something Rotten!
Penned (quilled?) by Baton Rouge natives and brothers Wayne & Karey Kirkpatrick (along with John O’Farrell), Rotten takes place in London’s Elizabethan times as the Bottom brothers try to find theatrical success equal to their rival, Shakespeare; in so doing, they create the template for the modern musical comedy.
The book provides a sturdy, and hysterical, structure from which hangs all sorts of jokes (many of them deliciously knowing theater ones), some romance, and songs–many boisterous, others simple and lovely–that recall the scores of Broadway’s golden era. (I had made a note in my program wondering what these authors were up to; turns out their adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire opens on Broadway in April.)
As we have come to expect, Director Michael McKelvey provides a first-class production, one of the most gorgeously looking shows New Orleans has seen in a long time featuring Glenn Avery Breed’s sumptuous costumes and Steve Schepker’s fabulous Renaissance-inspired set.
Choreographer Jaune Buisson’s grand dances bring out all the winking humor and sly sexiness in the numbers, never relying on just the same old, same old routines. A Musical, a glorious paean to the form, was just as much of a showstopper here as it was on Broadway, while the finale (Make an Omelette) had me laughing so hard it hurt.
Our three resident comic geniuses Keith Claverie, Sean Patterson, and Kyle Daigrepont all furnish marvelous, uproarious turns as, respectively, a Puritan (who may not be that pure), a soothsayer (whose vision is a bit cloudy), and two dissimilar types of theater backers. Daigrepont especially shines in this dual role which, on Broadway, was played by two different actors.
Leslie Claverie, as the put-upon wife of one of the Bottom brothers, gives us not only the spot-on timing of a master comedienne, but sings with clarion voice and tempers it all with a touching tenderness. Zounds, why isn’t she on Broadway?
Maggie Windler has done much outstanding work previously in such shows as Reefer Madness, Urinetown, and Ragtime, but as the younger Bottom’s love interest, she gets to display her entire range of talent and is charming, deadpan, sexy, slapsticky, and utterly delightful.
Brian DeMond brings the requisite peacockiness and sexy appeal to the preening (and double-dealing) Shakespeare. Missing, however, is the pinch of churlishness that Tony winner Christian Borle added to the role to make the Bard seem self-pityingly overburdened which added an additional layer of humor to his swagger.
As for the Bottoms, Matthew Michael Janisse’s alpha Nick and Richard Spitaletta, adorable as Nigel, I couldn’t help but wonder why some of our local actors (e.g., Kevin Murphy and Rich Arnold, both award winners) hadn’t been cast in these starring roles rather than this duo who had already toured nationally with the show. That said, they were both topnotch and I hope they’ll return to NOLA.
Mention must also be made of Ensemble member Eric Shawn who fashions a small wordless role (no spoiler here) into something unforgettable. Not surprisingly, he’s currently attending NOCCA; other NOCCA students and alums in the cast include Chrissy Bowen, Emma Fagin (dazzling in NOCCA’s recent A Wrinkle in Time), Knox Van Horn, and Polanco Jones, Jr. who made for a most sonorous Minstrel.
If, at the show’s start, there was a little sloppiness involving props and sound levels that needed adjusting, everything soon settled down to allow for unalloyed entertainment in its purest form. Extra points for what I imagine is a joke unique to New Orleans (hint: it rhymes with Mardi Gras).
Something Rotten! has already been extended. To ensure that all will end well, prithee book seats now. You’ll be laughing your Coriolanus off.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Playmakers Theater through Feb. 2
It had been a while since I last saw You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (like, um, college), Clark Gesner’s classic musical based on Charles M. Schulz’s timeless comic strip. A trip to Covington reminded me why it continues to be one of the most beloved works in the canon.
In a series of short scenes and blackouts, punctuated by vibrant musical numbers, the Peanuts universe gets well-conveyed. Deep philosophical questions are asked. Personal foibles get revealed. And, ultimately, happiness is found, to some degree, by these characters.
Employing dayglo colors for the set, Director Justin Lapeyrouse wisely keeps things straightforward and focused on the Peanuts gang. If the pacing is occasionally a bit off, it’s likely due to the use of unyielding prerecorded musical tracks and, more importantly, set pieces that take time getting on and off stage.
Michael D. Graves touchingly finds the pathos in Charlie Brown. He endows this rather nebbishy sad sack with almost Don Quixote-esque qualities as he continually hopes that the little red-headed girl of his dreams will notice him. Graves does well by not overdoing it, wonderfully drawing us in to celebrate Charlie Brown’s occasional triumphs. If he only semi-successfully hits all the proper notes, that seems appropriate for Charlie Brown.
As the bitchy Lucy Van Pelt, Jennifer Patterson is absolute perfection. With her ruffled socks and raspy voice, she wholly embodies this self-centered petite bully. So assured is she of her Little Known Facts (still a great song, and newly relevant in our “fake news” times) that she might have you convinced that you can tell how old a tree is “by counting its leaves.” Whether wooing Schroeder or dispensing advice (for 5 cents), Patterson’s embodiment of Lucy is definitive.
Lisa Keiffer’s Snoopy is suitably oblivious to that “round-headed kid”…except at suppertime. If Keiffer brings out the beagle’s sass and idiosyncrattiness, there could have been a little more devil-may-care in her portrayal and, in The Red Baron, a soupçon more shaping of its dramatic contours.
Robert Fielding as the blanket-toting Linus and Alan Talbott as the Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder both offer proficient performances with Talbott’s beautiful baritone standing out.
Unfortunately, as Sally, Erin Kate Young, whom I’ve previously admired in 1776 and 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress, seems to be in a different production. Whereas all the other actors approach their characters as adults, or kids who act like adults, Young plays at “being” a child, scrunching up her face in a parody of how kids behave rather than finding the essence of Charlie Brown’s sister and translating it into appropriate behavior. Having guided the rest of the cast to such apt performances, Lapeyrouse must share some of the blame for this misfire. It’s a shame as Young has a great voice, well-suited to Sally’s songs.
While I don’t think Schulz ever produced It’s Mardi Gras, Charlie Brown, if you visit Playmakers Theater on the North Shore, you just might catch some pre-Carnival happiness.
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