The Family Line at the BK [Beauregard-Keyes] Historic House through November 20
Since 2018, Goat in the Road Productions (GRP) has presented a remarkable series of immersive plays in notable French Quarter edifices that entertain and enlighten about seminal moments in New Orleans history. If you enjoyed The Stranger Disease (2018) and The Uninvited (2020), as I did, you won’t want to miss The Family Line.
The Family Line takes audiences back to 1892 when the River side of the Lower Quarter was known as Piccolo Palermo because of its large Italian, specifically Sicilian, population. The BK House (formerly, The Beauregard-Keyes House), then owned by Italian businessman Dominic Lanata, contained a grocery store run by the Giacona family.
Written by a twelve-member “Creation Ensemble”, The Family Line explores the tensions between the Quarter’s Italian grocery store owners & their Afro-Creole counterparts in Treme, and the city’s wholesalers which led, in part, to NOLA’s General Strike of 1892, during which, to a great extent, divisions broke down less along racial lines than among class. (Note: in those days, Sicilians here were not considered “white”,)
As with GRP’s previous such shows, audiences at Family Line follow the character(s) of their choice as scenes simultaneously play out in four areas of BK House’s ground floor; after about 35 minutes, the play ends and is repeated allowing you to follow other characters. Even with the do-over, you can’t see it all, but if you go with a friend and split up, you can compare notes afterward.
If I’m still not sure what caused the friction between the wholesalers, who seem to have some sort of monopoly, and the grocers (rising wholesale prices, sure, but why don’t the grocers then just increase their own prices? To avoid alienating their customers? A program note indicates the Strike pitted employers against workers, the more typical face-off.), the pleasures of Family Line come more from the personalities of its eight characters and their relationships than it being a mere history lesson (though displays throughout the House give background material that’s well worth reading prior to the performance).
The Giacona family matriarch Teresa (Lisa Moraschi Shattuck) may be a tough cookie but she’s still mourning the mysterious death of her son some months earlier. Daughter Natalia (Grace Kennedy) tries to get her to close their shop for one day in solidarity with the workers. Vincenzo (Joel Derby), her cousin who’s now employed by the wholesalers, must balance his two obligations, family and work.
While Treme grocer Dez (Constance Thompson) rallies behind the workers, her brother Isaac (KC Simms) begins a flirtation with Annette (Alexandria Miles) who also works for the Giaconas; her aunt Christine (April Louise) and Teresa’s nephew Pascal (Dylan Hunter) are dear friends. The world of The Family Line is pleasingly tight in this way.
The Family Line gives us more talk than Stranger Disease or The Uninvited, as its impending strike is not as much a spur to dramatic action as the looming plague of Disease or the incipient race riot of Uninvited. Line is never less than interesting, however, its story told in a more minor key than its predecessors, at times, almost Chekhovian as characters express regrets & hopes and are faced with tough decisions.
Directors Richon May Wallace and Chris Kaminstein sustain a smooth flow among the playing areas, ensuring that enough engrossing moments are going on at any one time so as to draw attendees in various directions and avoid audience traffic bottlenecking.
Shattuck transforms, utterly and convincingly, into an immigrant Italian older woman, stern of manner but, ultimately, one who makes a principled decision. Kennedy displays a bitter but realistic outlook and achieves a clear-eyed & heartbreaking acknowledgment of her situation in life. By eschewing any sentimentality, both these actresses convey piercing emotion s of their souls.
Miles and Simms, both recent UNO grads, bring a charming openness to their budding romance. Thompson may be saddled with most of the play’s speechifying but she imbues it with conviction and passion, and does well.
Hunter, appealing throughout, radiates an emotional transparency in his big scene to powerful effect. Derby’s boyish face well-masks Vincenzo’s weaselly demeanor. Louise’s warmth and sly humor properly filled the scene I saw her in; I’m just disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of her.
If there was any justice in the world, The Family Line would run year-round at the BK House. With such justice scarce, however, it’s only scheduled to run until November 20. Get your tickets now.
[More information and tickets at http://www.goatintheroadproductions.org/]
The Play That Goes Wrong at Le Petit Theatre through November 6
Chaos triumphs over order and madness triumphs over sense in The Play That Goes Wrong at Le Petit Theatre. This award-winning comedy from London shows, with acrobatic precision, what happens when everything conspires against an amateur theatrical troupe attempting to put on a creaky murder mystery.
Play sends up every possible theatrical bugaboo–doors that don’t open, lines written on hands, missed cues, warring egos, misplaced props, etc. etc. The acting (of the play within the play) may be classically bad but Play pays tribute to the fortitude of those applause-hungry actors who persevere at all costs no matter what’s occurring around them.
You’d have to be a Grinch not to enjoy Play That Goes Wrong and, when I saw it on Broadway in 2017, I thoroughly did. Watching Director Dave Solomon’s production at Le Petit, however, I noticed that Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields’ script operates in two modes.
In the first, the humor arises out of character and situation as when the pompous Christopher Rosewater (played with delicious hauteur by Lynx Murphy) must improvise when he finds himself with keys and a glass vase in his hands instead of the requisite pencil and notepad. Such ridiculousness had me laughing out loud.
But then there are times when Lewis/Sayer/Shields impose a mere silliness on their characters that feels manufactured. Sure, actors have been known to get lost and repeat a passage, but five times? Let’s give thespians a little more credit than that. And while I love a good cat fight as much as the next person, why the stage manager (Cat Wilkinson) would try to not only continue playing the ingénue’s role after that actress (Yvette Bourgeois) has recovered from a li’l injury, but actively fight her to hold onto the part, when there’s been no indication of any rivalry between them, is an insult to all hardworking SMs who are usually only too happy to stay out of the spotlight.
Whatever. I suppose cheap laughs are better than none at all.
Asked to do things that sometimes have you fearing for their safety, the cast are all topnotch farceurs.
Murphy and Matt Reed, as a dim-witted actor, hysterically try to stay on point even as the stage collapses, literally, around them. Noah Hazzard evinces polished stupidity to a T. Benjamin Dougherty reveals himself to be a great physical comedian while always staying true to character, as does Dominic Giardina who here fulfills his “lifelong dream to portray a corpse” with panache.
If all you’re looking for is an evening of laughs, and who could blame you in these crazy times, then you’d be right to get to Le Petit before The Play That Goes Wrong ends its run on November 6.
[More information and tickets at www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/events//the-play-that-goes-wrong.html]
Kyiv City Ballet at the Mahalia Jackson Theater
On February 23, Kyiv City Ballet unknowingly boarded what would be one of the last flights out of Ukraine for a long-planned tour. They have since not been able to return home and have been staying in France, performing throughout Europe. New Orleans was recently privileged to have them perform here, under the auspices of the New Orleans Ballet Association, as part of the company’s first U.S. tour.
Given the horrors that are continuing in Ukraine, the audience naturally empathized with the artists on the stage at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. This was, however, an evening of dance of the highest caliber, a treat no matter the circumstances that brought the large company here.
Krystina Kadashevych, one of the top prima ballerinas of Ukraine, led the tutu-wearing corps de ballet in an exquisite rendering of Petipa’s Paquita Pas de Deux. Partnered by the handsome and sturdy Danyil Podhrushko, she was a model of breathtaking perfection and gracefulness.
Tribute to Peace, choreographed by Ivan Kozlov, the company’s Artistic Director, and Katerina Kozlova to music by Edward Elgar especially for this tour, avoided all cliches about “peace” and gave us touching portraits of a variety of people who pass through a town square, including lovers both straight and gay. Beautifully danced and choreographed, by its end we felt as though we knew each of the personages in it intimately.
The finale, Men of Kyiv, danced to traditional Ukrainian folk music, showed off the men of the company to spectacular effect as they did gravity-defying leaps and kicks in a true WOWZA! of a performance.
I only had reservations about the opening number, Thoughts, a new work by Vladyslav Dobshynskyi. If the synopsis about “thoughts” and “feelings” bordered on the pretentious, the ballet itself was pretty to watch as movements flowed through the troupe in a domino effect. I just wish it had used a different score as its music, by a quintet of composers, was drony and soporific.
One can only hope that the Kyiv City Ballet will some day return to New Orleans, only under much happier circumstances.
NOBA’s season continues with Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE (Nov. 4 & 5), The Nutcracker Suite (Dec. 4). Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (Jan. 28), MOMIX’s new work Alice (Mar. 11), and the State Ballet of Georgia (Apr. 22). More info at https://nobadance.com/our-performances/upcoming-performances/