Roller Soul at Cafe Istanbul
In my 2022 Year in Review column, I lamented that a certain “NOLA quirkiness” had been missing from the season just ended. If Intramural Theater’s CAVE restored some of that quirkiness to NOLA’s theater scene as 2023 began, then Roller Soul, seen last month at Cafe Istanbul, threw us big beads of delicious eccentricity just as Carnival kicked in.
Suffice to say, when, in a show filled with roller-skating whizzes, two glittery but skate-less drag queens seem positively normal, you know you’re in for an only-in-NOLA evening.
Carolyn Hamilton’s script has a Vampire Lesbians of Sodom vibe as the succubus Lily laments “I don’t want to kill any more just to survive” while leaving a trail of dead bodies in her wake. What will happen when she meets and falls in love with the sexy Skates? Who will survive?
Roller Soul has no pretensions of being Romeo and Juliet yet, with a running time of under 80 minutes including intermission, Hamilton could’ve spent more time developing the secondary characters who just seem to pop in and out of the goings-on. As it is, an extended recreation of Kurt Loder’s MTV interview with Courtney Love slows things down and causes Roller Soul to lose its dramatic oomph.
But no matter. With the charismatic and effortlessly talented Christopher Carradine, a local skate instructor, as Skates; great production numbers choreographed by Marlo Barrera (who plays Lily), Courtney Saylor and Carradine to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love; and thrilling skate-offs between Saylor (portraying an Incubus) & Carradine and Carradine & “Guest Star” Slick Twist, the overflowing audience totally got into Roller Soul’s exuberant spirit. Me too.
Some of the folks involved with Roller Soul overlap with the krewe from Aqua Mob, which puts on an annual extravaganza featuring synchronized swimming. Let’s hope we can now look forward to yearly roller-skating productions. If they should boast a finale at all similar to Roller Soul’s witches and werewolves ritual sex ballet ON ROLLER SKATES, New Orleans’ quirkiness quota shall assuredly be fulfilled.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Mahalia Jackson Theater
Seen after passing through Chewbacchus’ line-up and before a Mardi Gras ball, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo fit in perfectly between them…and with the wacky spirit of Carnival.
Having last performed in New Orleans in 2010, the Trocks, as they’re known to dance cognoscenti, recently appeared at the Mahalia Jackson Theater with a program of three ballets plus two solos and some lagniappe.
For those not familiar with the Trocks, this all-male ballet company lovingly sends up ballet and modern dance classics; the entire troupe is composed of such accomplished dancers, however, that, during many passages, the parody fades away and we are left in awe of the gents’ terpsichorean prowess. Think of a Carol Burnett sketch if Ms. Burnett could dance like Misty Copeland and was a guy.
For NOLA, the Trocks bookended their program with two classical works, ChopEniana, staged by Alexandre Minz to music by Chopin, and Paquita, staged by Elena Kunikova after Marius Petipa’s choreography to Ludwig Minkus’ music.
Each of these half hour works were mostly played straight with comic bits, both broad and subtle, sprinkled throughout. Standouts included Haojun Xie who, as Nicholas Khachafallenjar, seemed to hang in the air as he jetéd across the stage in the former piece, and Philip Martin-Nielson who, as lead Ballerina Nadia Doumiafeyva (try saying these mock names aloud and fast) in the latter one, was simply amazing.
I most enjoyed the middle section, though, which featured Go For Barocco, choreographed by Peter Anastos to Bach’s music. Described in the program as a “stylistic heir to Balanchine’s Middle-Blue-Verging-On-Black-and-White Period” and a “new (neo) neo-new classic dance”, it helped to be familiar with Balanchine’s style to fully appreciate it, but I suspect it brought smiles to all. That said, as with most things comic, if I tried to describe it, it probably wouldn’t sound funny at all.
Just trust me that lead ballerinas Eugenia Repelskii (Joshua Thake) and Helen Highwaters (Duane Gosa), along with the rest of the work’s ensemble, thoroughly captured Balanchine’s essence, all angular motions and precise coolness.
Though the program promised one additional work, NOLA was fortunate to receive two.
The first was Dance of the Golden Tsarina, set to Tchaikovsky. A knowing send-up of orientalism, Salvador Sasot Sellart as “Grunya Protozova” combined outstanding pointe work with hilarious business involving a seemingly endless bolt of cloth.
And Robert Carter’s Olga Supphozova just might be the hammiest Dying Swan ever seen. Funny? Absolutely. But Carter’s performance was undergirded by superb technique, plus an ingenious costume that continually molted so that, by the end, the stage looked like Lafitte’s after a Sunday night napkin toss only with feathers.
As much as the Trocks were a hoot, my admiration for the them is tempered by a few caveats.
I’m not sure how they choose a program, but their evening in NOLA leaned heavily towards the classical repertoire. Where were the more modern works? As it was, by the time we got to Paquita, some of the shtik, especially the faux klutziness, seemed recycled from earlier dances.
While the program states that “The original concept of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has not changed since its inception in 1974: it is a company of professional male dancers performing the full range of the classical ballet and modern dance repertoire, while incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents and underlying incongruities of serious dance”, times have changed and perhaps it would now be appropriate to add a few women to the ensemble to see what humor can be gleaned by females taking on traditional male roles. Just a thought.
And perhaps most importantly, while we shouldn’t take the Trocks too seriously, their humor, particularly as seen in the program which, in addition to bios of the actual company dancers, includes over two dozen brief profiles of all the “artists” (each dancer has both a male and female persona) that leans heavily on a romanticization, even glorification, of all things Russian with references to St. Petersburg, the Kirov Ballet, and even the KGB. I realize it’s all in jest, but with Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine heading into its second year, a tonal cringiness results.
Otherwise, let’s hope we won’t have to wait another 13 years for the inspired silliness of the Trocks to return to New Orleans.
[NOBA’s next presentation will be MOMIX in Alice, an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on March 11. For tickets and more info, go to https://nobadance.com/performances/momix-in-alice/]
Exhausted Paint: The Death of Van Gogh at UNO’s Lab Theater, February 25 and 26
[After its world premiere last year, Exhausted Paint returns to UNO for a two-performance run to kick off its tour. Here are excerpts from my March 2022 review.]
Drew Stroud, a second year graduate student in UNO’s theater program, just completed a run in Justin Maxwell’s new one-act play Exhausted Paint: The Death of Van Gogh, at UNO.
While there have been many works about the renowned post-Impressionist artist, Maxwell’s script is unique. Other than its beginning and ending passages, its twelve inner sections are done in a different order each performance, their sequence determined by randomly chosen audience members before the start of the show.
Stroud inhabited this hour-long monolog flawlessly, occasionally interacting with folks in the front rows with confidence and bravado. His van Gogh questioned his place in the world, the value of his art, and what he gave up to achieve what he did.
If Maxwell may not have covered any new ground (yes, we know van Gogh sold only one canvas in his lifetime and now they go for millions and millions of dollars) and one or two of the sections could be omitted as a slight sense of repetitiousness accrues after a while, I’d certainly be interested in attending Exhausted Paint again, not only to see how a different ordering affects the piece’s effect, but to have the opportunity to take more in from this dense work.
And to see Stroud again. Cocksure but insecure, spiritual but not religious, charming but off-putting, his dazzling portrait of an artist as a youngish man, regardless of the order of the sections it seems to me, took us on an involving journey to a deeply emotional conclusion. I expect to remember Stroud’s van Gogh for a long, long time.
[For tickets and more information, go to www.exhaustedpaint.com/tickets]
With Mardi Gras now just a happy memory, theater can go back indoors after being in the streets for the past few weeks. Here are some of the offerings coming up between now and Jazzfest.
The Tony Award-winning classic Fiddler on the Roof returns to the Saenger Theatre February 28–March 5 in what The New York Times called a “superb new production” directed by Bartlett Sher. Go and kvell. L’Chaim! (https://www.saengernola.com/shows/fiddler-on-the-roof)
If I’m well-familiar with Fiddler (first show I ever saw on Broadway!), I know nothing about The NOLA Project’s White except that it was written by James Ijames, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Fat Ham I adored.
As per The NOLA Project, White is a contemporary Frankenstein story set in the fiercely competitive art world in which Gus (Matt Armato), an ambitious artist, doesn’t quite fulfill a museum’s desire for “different voices” for a major exhibition. With the aid of actress Vanessa (Tenaj Wallace), Gus then creates the brash Balkonaé Townsend persona and all goes according to plan until Balkonaé takes control and Gus has to face his creation head-on.
Directed by Beau Bratcher, this dark comedy runs March 1-31 and will be the first theatrical production in NOMA’s new Lapis Center for the Arts. (https://www.nolaproject.com/white?mc_cid=2e34386424&mc_eid=bd5a597568)
I also don’t know much about writer/director Eva Doumbia’s Autophagies (Self-Eaters) but it sounds fascinating as it employs dance, text, video, music, & even a chef cooking live on stage to tell stories about food’s history & migratory pathways, and the people whose lands, cultures, & lives that have been exploited along the way. Audiences will learn about the history of sugar on Réunion Island, rice cultivation in the south of France, cocoa production in the Ivory Coast, and much more.
Having already toured throughout France, an English-language version of Autophagies (Self-Eaters) will play at Ashé Cultural Arts Center’s Powerhouse Stage March 2-4 where New Orleans native Karen-Kaia Livers will be joining the cast. At the conclusion of this “documentary eucharist,” audience members are invited to share the meal prepared on stage by Chef Alexandre Bella Ola, owner of two acclaimed restaurants in France. Yum! (https://www.ashenola.org/events)
March is typically Tennessee Williams Month, culminating in the Tennessee Williams Festival around the playwright’s March 26 birthday and this year is no exception.
Le Petit kicks things off on March 9 with the 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner Cat on a Hot Tin Roof about the intergenerational conflicts of a wealthy family in the Mississippi delta. Salvatore Mannino directs Elizabeth Argus (Big Mama), Silas Cooper (Big Daddy), Jonathan Mares (Brick), and Mona Nasrawi as Maggie the Cat. Cat runs through March 26. (https://www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/https://www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/events//cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof.html)
The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company then opens its 2023 season the next day with a present day take on Night of the Iguana. The play, reset in 2021, follows the sexual and spiritual odyssey of Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Jake Wynne-Wilson) as he arrives at his best friend’s mountaintop hotel in Mexico, only to find that his friend died weeks ago. The hotelier’s widow Maxine (Lauren Wells) has set her sights on Shannon, now a tour guide with a busload of women in tow. He, though, finds solace in the presence of spinster painter Hannah Jelkes (Justice Hues) who has appeared at the hotel with her ancient poet grandfather (James Howard Wright).
Iguana plays March 10-26 at Loyola’s Lower Depths Theatre (https://ci.ovationtix.com/35398/production/1146329?utm_source=TWTC+Master+Email+List&utm_campaign=a534f5da9b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_25_11_53_COPY_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_91ea48b996-a534f5da9b-244632125)
In addition to these two productions, and its many speakers, panel discussions, and other events–including the always fun Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest–this year’s Tennessee Williams Festival is offering The Last Bohemia Fringe Festival at the Allways Lounge’s Twilight Room which features a variety of cabaret and other such acts including Lee Osorio’s Prisontown on March 25. I’ve heard wonderful things about this 90-minute, one-man performance dealing with Osorio’s return to his hometown of Lumpkin, Georgia–a once-thriving community that is today kept alive by one of the nation’s largest and most notorious federal immigration detention centers–where he must reckon with his identity as a queer, Latinx son of an immigrant and the heartbreaking reality of the America we live in today. (https://tennesseewilliams.net/the-last-bohemia-fringe-festival/)
I don’t know how many Tennessee Williams plays members of the all-star cast of the 1974 movie version of Murder on the Orient Express appeared in over the years (how’s that for a segue?), but if you’d like to see how a luxury train gets recreated on stage, head to the Jefferson Performing Arts Center for JPAS’ production of the Ken Ludwig adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery.
Janet Shea directs a cast of local all-stars as Murder choo-choo’s in Metairie March 10-19 (https://www.jpas.org/performance/murder-on-the-orient-express/). Another book-to-movie-to-stage adaptation, Stephen King’s Misery, will play at JPAS’ theater in Westwego, Teatro Wego!, March 23-April 2 (https://www.jpas.org/performance/misery/).
Over at Slidell Little Theatre, a movie-to-musical stage adaptation can be found. With a jazzy score by David (The Band’s Visit) Yazbek, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels shows what happens when two con men combine forces on the French Riviera. Directed by AB Harrison, Scoundrels runs March 3-19, and will be followed by Dreamgirls, directed by Jennifer Baptiste, April 21-May 7 (https://www.slidelllittletheatre.org/2022-2023-season?pageid=176911).
Also on the Northshore, in Covington, Playmakers Theater presents the ethereal romance Escaping the Labyrinth. Directed by Arden Allen Dufilho, the play wonders what would happen if the gods of ancient times were still alive in our world today. And what would happen if someone fell in love with one of them. Labyrinth opens March 18 and runs through April 2 (https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/)
Back on the Southshore, The Radical Buffoons are taking Lauren Gunderson’s revenge satire Exit, Pursued by a Bear far beyond its logical conclusion by embracing the play’s innate late-night-horror-decadence vibe. Sounds like fun! Torey Hayward & Tenaj Jackson will be directing Natalie Boyd, Mint Bryan, Angie Z, and Jon Greene at the Fortress of Lushington March 19-April 7 (https://radicalbuffoons.simpletix.com/)
If you prefer your theater based on history, definitely check out Josephine Baker: From Creole Goddess to Siren of the Resistance at the World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen, March 24–April 2. Chanteuse Anaïs St. John’s latest cabaret show uses song and spoken word to bring to life Josephine Baker’s extraordinary journey from humble beginnings in East St. Louis to the stages of Jazz Age Paris, her wartime service in France & North Africa, and her speech at the 1963 Freedom March in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial (https://www.nationalww2museum.org/programs/josephine-baker-creole-goddess-siren-resistance).
I suspect Baker would be thrilled by The WE WILL DREAM: New Works Festival. Beginning in March and running through June, this new biennial event for Black playwrights working in the American South will present the world premieres of the three plays: Drapetomania: A Negro Carol by M.D. Schaffer (March 25-April 30); Where the Suga Still Sweet by Brian Egland (April 8-May 21); and The Defiance of Dandelions by Philana Imade Omorotionmwan (April 28-June 17).
In addition to these productions, there will be workshops, dance performances, talks by James Ijames (April 20) and Erika Dickerson-Despenza |(May 19), and much more at The André Cailloux Center for Performing Arts and Cultural Justice. For the full schedule, go to https://www.nodreamdeferrednola.com/wwd-festival-home#schedule
And if you’d like to know what will happen when the Queen of Bounce links up with her hometown orchestra for a concert, then get tickets for Big Freedia & the LPO on April 13 at the Orpheum Theater. It’s described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” which doesn’t sound like an exaggeration! (https://lpomusic.com/event/spektrix/33201AJLRJQTMSPLGKHLNMPSPGHMNLTRH/#SpektrixIFrame)