5 Women Wearing the Same Dress at Playmakers Theater through Sept. 8
To the lesbians, gay men and straight folks who want to avoid the magnificent takeover of the French Quarter and environs known as Southern Decadence, I have something for you to do Labor Day weekend and the following one as well.
To those local gay men who, after Decadence’s inundation of maleness, want to reacquaint themselves with the world of those with no Y chromosomes, I can suggest a field trip for September 6, 7, or 8.
No matter which group you fall into, head north, across Lake Pontchartrain, towards Covington and its Playmakers Theater which is kicking off its 65th season with the thoroughly enjoyable 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress.
Written by Alan Ball before his Emmy Award for Six Feet Under and Oscar for American Beauty, this dramedy concerns five bridesmaids during a lavish society wedding in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Ball populates his quintet with two friends of the bride who represent two separate subspecies of woman-with-man-trouble; a young devoutly religious type; the lipstick lesbian sister of the groom; and the tough as nails younger sister of the bride in whose bedroom the show takes place.
The first act occurs after the wedding ceremony but before the reception; the second during the reception as flirtations with various bartenders, musicians and guests percolate.
Although 5 Women debuted off-Broadway in 1993 (with a cast that included Allison Janney as the lesbian) and some of its references seem a bit dated, it’s amazing how prescient Ball was by including some weighty themes that make the script seem, at times, as though it was written yesterday.
If 5 Women sometimes appears as though it’s a gay man’s view of how women act and interact, that doesn’t necessarily make it inaccurate and, if occasionally slicked up with manufactured conflicts, it certainly feels all of a piece. Ball includes some great one-liners but as they emerge from the characters themselves, it doesn’t do them justice to quote them out of context. One exception: “If I get to Heaven and there’s not an open bar, God will have some serious explaining to do.”
While generally well-written with many great stretches of involving material, at times Ball seems to be merely treading water; the second act, in particular, feels padded, but also contains some of the best writing and most moving passages.
None of these criticisms matter, however, to Director Anysia Genre and her cast of 6 (the 5 women and 1 man who comes on late, but significantly, in the proceedings).
Genre first attracted my attention in 2007 as the lead in the Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans’ production of Boy Gets Girl for which she would go on to win the Ambie Award that year for Best Actress in a Play. Genre has now risen to become President of Playmakers’ Board of Directors and emerged as an astute director (her Loot, in 2015, dazzled).
For 5 Women, Genre has staged it fluidly and paced it well, creating a natural ebb and flow among these put upon bridesmaids. With one of the best ensembles Playmakers has ever fielded, 5 Women more than justifies the long drive across the Causeway (of course, if you live on the North Shore, you have no excuse to miss this).
Clad in their pistachio green(!) dresses, these five actresses cohere into an utterly believable group of friends and relatives.
Erin Kate Young follows up her exuberant performance as Richard Henry Lee in Playmakers’ recent 1776 with a more complex portrayal of a woman who’s grown wary of men…and with good reason.
Entering with a bottle of champagne that she treats as a baby does a bottle of milk, Janie McNulty avoids the potential bathos of a woman in a loveless marriage. Finding every comic nugget in Ball’s script, McNulty knows just how to toss off a line as she shapes her character to create a fully-realized multi-dimensional portrait of a woman on the verge.
As the pious virgin, though Jaci Rai Guidry has only a few roles to her credit, through some alchemical stage magic, she takes her “sappy lines” (as the NYTimes described them), many of which consist of “I’m a Christian”, and transforms them into a wry, yet subtle, commentary on her character, layering her with the slyest of humor yet never descending into parody. I’d like to see what Guidry could do with one of Chekhov’s dewy women.
Initially, and not inappropriately, describing herself as “a linebacker in a dress”, Amy Schneida makes a smashing stage debut as the bride’s baby sister. Schneida wields her forceful personality like a cudgel, at war with the world; yet when she, almost unwillingly, discards her bitter carapace to reveal a tender side, you want to wrap her in your arms. A sophomore biology major, I hope that Schneida will henceforth spend as much time on stage as in the lab.
As the groom’s sister (and hence newcomer to the group), Kathryn Merris Scott’s lesbian can at times seem like merely auxiliary to the bunch. Scott, however, displays impeccable comic timing and, when unfairly wounded by another, her hurt is palpable.
As the lone guy, Aaron Genre comes on towards the end for an absolutely lovely scene with one of the women. No spoilers as to who it is, but she does her finest work of the evening in it.
If the accents seemed to be all over the place and there was a sense that this could’ve been set anywhere, heck, I wouldn’t know a Knoxville accent or its style anyway; this production merely points out the universality of Ball’s script. And while, at times, especially in the first act, I might’ve wished that Genre had guided her cast to give just slightly more nuanced performances, having attended opening night, that might come as the run continues (though given the script, which, while certainly good, is hardly Shakespeare, may not even be possible).
5 Women Wearing the Same Dress merely hints at what Ball would go on to. With Playmakers so exquisitely fulfilling its frothy and fun (and serious) quotient, however, it’s a delicious end-of-summer treat.
Randy Rainbow Live at The Fillmore on August 31
[Randy Rainbow returns to New Orleans on, Saturday, August 31, at The Fillmore. Here are excerpts from my review of his New Orleans premiere performance in December 2017 at Café Istanbul.]
Randy Rainbow (yes, that’s his real name) has garnered international acclaim and over a hundred million views with his popular series of political spoofs and song parodies. Trump’s election last year has provided him with an unending source of material.
His latest release, Desperate Cheeto to the tune of Luis Fonsi’s Grammy-nominated Despacito, nails 45 with such lines as “Desperate cheeto, getting worse with every single stupid tweet-o / Don’t know why your hands are so petite-o / You’re upsetting everyone you meet-o.”
Rainbow also scored with the presidential debate-themed Braggadocious! set to the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! (“Heeeeee’s super callous, fragile, egocentric, braggadocious…”) and brilliantly used a medley of Broadway tunes to lambaste Drump’s “covfefe” tweet.
Making his New Orleans debut, Rainbow looked natty in a sparkly black tuxedo jacket and sang along with some of his videos including Ya Got Trump Trouble! (using The Music Man’s famed tune) as wonderfully apt now as it was during last year’s Republican convention and Fact-Checker, Fact-Checker, one of my favorites, which skewers Kellyanne Conway to the melody of Fiddler on the Roof ’s Matchmaker, Matchmaker. Not surprisingly with all the turmoil in DC, it’s already slightly out-of-date as Sean Spicer, who appears in it, is long gone as White House Press Secretary.
Taking questions from the audience for about 10 minutes during the hour-long program, Rainbow proved to be an engaging, down-to-earth presence. He said that he does everything for his videos by himself working from his apartment in Queens, NY (“No one wants to work with me,” he joked). Asked how he comes up with ideas for the satires, he replied, “I’m gay. I think in show tunes.”
While a good deal of Rainbow’s show consisted of us watching his videos on a giant screen while he was backstage, to expect a man best known for his videos to present you with something else would be like asking a fish to fly. And when a show is as entertaining as this, such little things can be easily overlooked.
[Other upcoming shows at The Fillmore include George Clinton’s Farewell Tour, One Nation Under a Groove with George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, Dumpstaphunk, George Porter, Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, and Miss Velvet & Blue Wolf on Sept. 1, and Daniel Caesar with special guest Koffee on Sept. 6.]
After a fairly quiet summer, theater in NOLA comes roaring back after Labor Day weekend. It may be hard to top the performance art spectacle know as Southern Decadence, but the following productions should be up to the task.
It may not be decadent but Silence! The Musical sure sounds like a lot of fun. This award-winning musical parodies the Oscar-winning film The Silence of the Lambs and has a book by Hunter ([title of show]) Bell.
Michael McKelvey directs a cast including Kevin Murphy, Hannah Rachal, Trey Ming, Beau Bratcher, Elyse McDaniel, and Matt Reed. Silence! will play at the Twilight Lounge located behind The AllWays Lounge (September 6-16) and The New Orleans Art Center (September 19-28). I wonder if they’ll be serving fava beans and Chianti at the concession stand?
Like Silence of the Lambs, parts of The NOLA Project’s season opener take place in a prison. Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” whose “happily ever after” ending is morally ambiguous, not entirely happy, and utterly suited to our troubled times.
Yet this shall not be Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, but rather the world-premiere of a modern-verse version by Aditi Brennan Kapil, a nationally produced female playwright of Bulgarian and Indian descent. This adaptation was commissioned as part of Play On Shakespeare, an initiative by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to commission 36 modern American playwrights to “translate” Shakespeare’s works into contemporary modern English.
Directed by Mark Routhier, this Shakespeare/Kapil Measure will be staged with a 15-member cast in the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art and runs September 10-29. Should be interesting.
“Morally ambiguous, not entirely happy, and utterly suited to our troubled times” might well describe Tracy Letts’ AUGUST: Osage County and its family that includes a vanished father, a pill-popping mother, and three sisters harboring shady little secrets. Southern Rep gives this Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play its belated New Orleans debut at its home on Bayou Road from Sept. 11 through Oct. 6.
AUGUST’s 13-member ensemble will feature Lara Grice, Aimée Hayes, John Neisler, Lance Nichols, Troy Poplous, Nick Thompson, and Mandy Zirkenbach among others. Jason Kirkpatrick helms the cast which will have to negotiate scenic designer David Raphel’s functional three-story house.
Measure for Measure and AUGUST: Osage County may be “problem plays” but at least their problems are merely fictional. In Roleplay, they’re real.
Inspired by the results of the 2018 Tulane University Survey on Sexual Misconduct revealing that 41% of female students and 19% of male students reported being sexually assaulted during their time on campus, Roleplay follows 11 students through their sophomore year of college and explores these young people’s experiences with love, sex, power, and consent.
This new theatrical work was created by a team of student performers and New Orleans artists including Tulane professors Darci Fulcher and Jenny Mercein, and members of local theater company Goat in the Road Productions, Shannon Flaherty and Chris Kaminstein. Roleplay will be presented at Tulane University’s Lupin Theatre Sept. 5-15. Tickets are free, but must be reserved at www.goatintheroadproductions.org.
And since I don’t want to leave you with a problem, fictional or non, the Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS) breaks the stranglehold Halloween has with that sweet transvestite and presents The Rocky Horror Show directed by Bryce Slocumb at its Westwego Performing Arts Theatre from Sept. 27-Oct. 13.
Chad Gearig-Howe, recently seen in Matilda the Musical, stars as Frank-N-Furter, while newcomer Kirkland Green portrays that glistening and gleaming Rocky who can do press-ups, chin-ups and the snatch, clean, & jerk. Off the top of my head, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me could practically be the theme song for Decadence. I’m already shivering in antici……………………………………………..pation!