Little Shop Of Horrors at 30 by Ninety Theatre through June 13
While theaters in New Orleans are beginning to open again (see HEDY! below), venues on the North Shore are now playing to 100% capacity. That being the case, if you want to see 30 by Ninety Theatre’s production of Little Shop Of Horrors, you better book now or risk being disappointed.
For those unfamiliar with Roger Corman’s cult horror comedy film or the smash off-Broadway (and, later, film) musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman inspired by it, Little Shop tells the Faustian tale of a nebbishy flower shop worker, Seymour, who finds fame and fortune for his store when he discovers the secret of how to make an unusual plant grow to humongous proportions. For shop owner Mr. Mushnik, co-worker (and Seymour’s secret crush) Audrey, and Audrey’s abusive boyfriend Orin, that secret turns out to be a killer.
Like Slidell Little Theatre’s Little Shop earlier this year, 30 by Ninety’s is a good solid community theater production in which each of its elements–acting, direction, choreography, and design–certainly fulfills all the demands of the script.
When a show consistently achieves this level of entirely satisfactory quality without ever blooming into greatness, I tend to suspect that, for whatever reasons, it is due to the director, in this case, Lori Molinary who seemed unable to draw out that little extra oomph or shape some of the details that would have allowed the production to blossom fully.
This is not to damn the cast and crew in Mandeville with faint praise. I have seen bad community theater productions and I am most happy to assure you that this is not one of them. It just doesn’t, however, reach that degree of theatrical magic of, say, Brighton Beach Memoirs seen at 30 by Ninety a few months ago.
For tickets and more information about Little Shop Of Horrors as well as 30 by Ninety Theatre’s next show, Clue: On Stage (July 17-Aug. 1), go to https://www.30byninety.com/
HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr at the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen
HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr was supposed to have played last year at the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen, but, well, you-know-what got in the way. Heather Massie’s one-woman show finally did make it to New Orleans recently. Was it worth the wait? For the most part, yes.
Best known as a glamourous screen actress–she was once dubbed “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”–Lamarr is now finally being more widely recognized as inventing, with composer George Antheil, The Secret Communication System, which made torpedoes more accurate. Also referred to as frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology, her invention is used today in cell phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and a variety of other wireless systems.
Massie wrote the script, starred in it, and has toured the production around the world for the last five years. Her mission — “To establish Hedy Lamarr as a role model and to encourage young women in science and technology” — is a noble one. And the show is certainly interesting as Massie weaves dialog in with facts to flesh out her portrait of Lamarr.
As with many one-person, biographical shows, however, it includes much exposition that could’ve been gleaned from Wikipedia and not enough dramatic tension.
When it does crackle, as when Massie describes how Lamarr got out of Vienna just in time from under the watchful eye of her then-husband, Austrian arms dealer Friedrich (“Fritz”) Mandl, HEDY! is fascinating. In its delicious descriptions of Mandl and his world (“a snake who sells to everyone including Hitler and Mussolini”; “in the world of selling munitions, there are no enemies”) and how Lamarr established herself in Hollywood (negotiations with Louis B. Mayer of MGM are a highlight), HEDY! draws you in by demonstrating how smart a cookie Lamarr was.
At other times, though, HEDY! settles for too facile dramaturgy. Though it includes some fun anecdotes, Lamarr’s showbiz story is fairly standard issue. Details about her friendship with Howard Hughes come out of nowhere. And while it’s always difficult to dramatize creativity, Massie doesn’t fully connect the dots as to how Lamarr was able to become a successful inventor.
While I could’ve done without the audience interaction and a too precious “summoning” of such ex-lovers as George Sanders and Jimmy Stewart, any show that includes such gems, presumably gleaned from Lamarr’s writings and interviews, as “To be glamourous, you just have to stand still and look stupid” makes for a worthy evening.
Even worthier, HEDY! makes clear that while the Army just wanted her to sell war bonds, which she did during WWII with extreme success, it might have made even greater use of her talents had her aptitude for inventing critical systems been encouraged.
Lamarr passed away in 2000 at the age of 85. I’m glad HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr finally had its run here at the National WWII Museum as a way to pay tribute to the self-described “simple Austrian girl” who was so far ahead of her time.
For tickets and information about upcoming shows at the Stage Door Canteen, go to https://ticketing.nationalww2museum.org/webstore/shop/viewItems.aspx?cg=Tickets&c=BB
Topdog/Underdog at the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum
RoBenHood Productions made an impressive debut last fall with its production of The Pillowman in Ponchatoula. Heading to Hammond recently for Topdog/Underdog at the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum, I wondered if its sophomore outing would be as admirable. Well….
Suzan-Lori Parks’ play takes place in a seedy apartment. Younger brother Booth hopes that older brother Lincoln will teach him how to become a master of three card monte. Lincoln had been the reigning king of that sidewalk hustle until he renounced his ways and sought to make a more honest living. Lincoln now impersonates Abraham Lincoln in a Times Square arcade where people pay to “shoot” him in a recreation of the 16th President’s assassination.
I had last seen this Pulitzer Prize-winner in 2003 at the CAC. I was underwhelmed by it then. The intervening years have done little to change my opinion of this inner city version of the Cain and Abel tale of rivalrous brothers.
Yes, Parks’ conceit of an African-American naming his two sons “Lincoln” and “Booth” is arch. Yes, having this black “Lincoln” portray Pres. Lincoln in white-face is clever social commentary. And, yes, Parks does provide some touching moments as when Booth spiffs up himself and the apartment for dinner with a girlfriend who never shows up.
Yet the play’s two-and-a-half hour running time is not justified by its endless talk of money and women, won and lost, and its repetitious games of three card monte. Though one sympathizes with the brothers and the dysfunctional family dynamics they had to deal with as they grew up, Parks never invests these two petty thieves/hustlers with a tragic grandeur that would make one truly care about them. And when a pistol is brandished in Act One, it comes as little surprise when it’s finally used in Act Two.
Ben C. Dougherty provided good, solid direction throughout this notoriously difficult work, though had he been able to sharpen the brothers’ interactions it might have made it even more effective. Interestingly, in this verbose piece, some of the best moments have no words as when Lincoln practices dying in a variety of ways, a segment both funny and touching.
As Booth, the cooler, snazzier dressing but less talented younger brother, Detalion Dixon incarnates the kind of dangerous charmer it’s best to run from.
Robinson J. Cyprian follows up his crackerjack direction of Pillowman with a memorable portrayal of Lincoln. Tall as the assassinated president, if Cyprian found more of the poetry in his lines, it’s due, in part, because Parks gives her Lincoln more lyrical ones than Booth; threatened with the loss of his job, Lincoln also has more on the line than his brother. With measured excellence, Cyprian fully displayed Lincoln’s emotional range from his quiet soul-searching moments to his triumphant exuberant ones.
Despite my reservations about the play, I so admire Cyprian and Dougherty for bringing such a challenging work to Hammond, and look forward to whatever is in the cards for future productions of theirs.
To sign up for RoBenHood’s email list and learn more about Reverse Negative, its presentation in July, go to https://robenhoodproductions.com/