Theatre For One: For This Moment at Loyola University
Hallelujah! Live theater has returned to Orleans Parish!
Granted, it was only for two weekends. And audiences were limited. And the run is over now. But it happened and successfully so.
What “it” was, was Theatre For One: For This Moment put on by Loyola University’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance.
Theatre For One is a New York-based theater company that, in its mobile state-of-the-art performance space, has for over ten years presented brief plays (playlets? mini-monologues?) done by one actor for one audience member at a time.
Because Sal Mannino, Loyola Theater Department’s new Artistic Director, faced with the challenge of producing something that could be done to fit the demands of the current COVID pandemic, had a prior association with Theatre For One, he was able to arrange for five of its previously commissioned works to be done here and shaped into an evening of theater.
The result, For This Moment, turned out to be an apt fit for these times.
The show could be done mostly outdoors. A “Plan B” existed if rain forced the production indoors, but the Loyola folks lucked out with a streak of glorious weather.
Each audience consisted of only one viewer. Performances were slotted about 15 minutes apart with a docent leading spectators from one piece to the next. Masks and social distancing were, of course, de rigueur.
Because of the self-contained nature of each micro-performance, they could be multiply cast allowing for the participation of all the thespians in the department. A video presentation of one of the works, the only one offered indoors, allowed those students who are studying remotely to take part as well.
I LOVED this overall approach, which reminded me a bit of some NOLA Project productions in NOMA’s Sculpture Garden such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Adventures in Wonderland. Such an expansive ambulatory process added a welcome extra dimension to the performative aspect of the show. In fact, I enjoyed Theatre For One: For This Moment so much, that I went back a few days later to see it again, interested in how different or similar the performances would be with a different group of actors.
Creative Director Helen Jaksch oversaw the ingenious logistics which involved using five separate spaces on Loyola’s campus, each with its own unique personality that benefitted from impressive architecture. With five or six actors alternating in each role, I suspect Jaksch had to plan things out with the precision of a football play (O, why can’t college theater get as much respect and publicity as college sports?) to ensure that each of them got more or less equal stage time while allowing for necessary breaks throughout each evening.
I just wish I could be a tad more enthusiastic about the individual works themselves which were written by Will (Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Realistic Joneses) Eno, Noah (Mr. Marmalade) Haidle, José (The Motorcycle Diaries) Rivera, and Emily Schwend, a playwright new to me who penned two of them.
All but one seemed too thin, more a snippet or a musing than a fully formed piece; they tend to lack specific details that would make the narratives more involving. Relationships are hinted at without being fully fleshed out. Sure, there’s an intriguing air of mystery to this, but it winds up coming off as too thin and a bit of a tease. (When I saw a Theatre For One piece some years ago in NYC, I felt pretty much the same way.)
Only Rivera’s Lizzy, in which a young actress, during a break from a rehearsal, speaks of her bond with an elderly relative, provided a concrete enough story for one to get emotionally invested.
To be certain, this production was put together under challenging circumstances due to the coronavirus and it is an admirable achievement for all. That said, however, I wish the directors (Bari James Bellard, Monica R. Harris, Eduardo Ramirez Kortright, Jessica Lozano, and Constance Thompson, all Loyola alums) had further broken down individual moments in the monologues and gotten their actors to imbue them with a little more depth or nuance. These pieces are so short that I wouldn’t have minded if they had run a minute or two longer if that would’ve provided greater clarity.
Of the actors, all were good, no small accomplishment with masks covering half of their faces, causing an occasional word to be muffled. Interestingly, however, one of the performers, in each monolog’s pair that I saw, got a little closer to fully conveying the essence of the piece. Still, I salute all cast members for putting up with such distractions as a streetcar rumbling by, a bassoonist loudly practicing nearby, and random passersby, one even on a cell phone, as they presented their micro-performances with verve and assurance.
Although Theatre For One: For This Moment’s historic run has now been completed, it should point the way for how we can expect to enjoy live theater as we forge on in this pandemic. All involved are to be commended for this.
Loyola’s next production will be Cadillac Crew by Toni Sampson at the Marquette Theater running January 28 to February 6, 2021. Directed by Lauren Turner, Cadillac Crew lends voice to the now-silent pioneers of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and reclaims the stories of the forgotten leaders who blazed the trail for desegregation and women’s rights.
LaChanze/The Seth Concert Series through November 29
On October 25, The Seth Concert Series offered up yet another fantastic 90+ minute escape from this topsy-turvy world into the revivifying universe of musical comedy with a concert featuring Tony Award winner LaChanze.
Broadcasting live from her apartment while Host/Musical Director Seth Rudetsky played the piano and interviewed her from his, LaChanze gave an overview of her career from its early days to her recent Tony-nominated turn in the title role of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.
- a powerful yet tender Believe in Yourself from The Wiz which showed off her great, honey-coated voice
- a seemingly unplanned I Don’t Know How to Love Him (Jesus Christ Superstar) during which LaChanze radiated a heavenly warmth
- Once on This Island’s Waiting for Life with her daughter Celia Rose Gooding and Rudetsky providing back-up for this fabulous, joyful number. LaChanze got the role by answering an open call and went on to receive her first Tony nomination when the production moved from off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons (“We made $1.06 a week”) to Broadway.
- The Stake from The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Kirsten Childs’ semi-autobiographical work about her life as a Fosse dancer. LaChanze had the lead in this off-Broadway show. Rehearsals occurred when Gooding was just 3 weeks old; LaChanze would instinctively know when she was crying backstage. Based on this really cool number, I’d love to see a production of Bubbly Black Girl.
- Another Hundred People which LaChanze infused with joy and light countervailing its inherent angstiness. As Marta in the 1995 Broadway revival of Company, LaChanze sang this and was a trailblazer as it was one of the first times a Black performer was cast in a major production of this musical. She had nothing but nice things to say about auditioning for Stephen Sondheim.
- You Learn to Live Without from If/Then, a lovely touching song explaining how to handle a husband’s death, which is sadly appropriate for LaChanze as her first husband was killed in the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11.
Perhaps my favorite number was the end of Act One from Dreamgirls for which LaChanze, who was an understudy in the 1987 revival (“I went on a lot”), and Rudetsky changed roles and genders to cover the 7 characters who take part in it. What fun!
The performance concluded with What About Love? from The Color Purple for which LaChanze won her Tony. She did it as a duet with her daughter (who was recently nominated for a Tony herself for Jagged Little Pill); not only did they sound beautiful together, but throughout the concert, they both came off as absolutely charming, fun, sweet people.
At the end, Rudetsky asked Gooding if she’d like to do her own concert with him. She readily agreed. I’m already looking forward to it.
Coming up next in The Seth Concert Series are Jessie Mueller (Nov. 8), Lillias White (Nov. 15), Adam Pascal (Nov. 22), and Patti Murin & Colin Donnell (Nov. 29). Enjoy!
To purchase tickets to these upcoming shows, as well as LaChanze’s, available On Demand through Nov. 9, go to thesethconcertseries.com
An Exit Too Soon
I was saddened recently to learn of the passing of Renee Saussaye on September 7. This talented actress and director was known throughout the Greater New Orleans theater community, but was particularly associated with Slidell Little Theatre (SLT).
I first saw Renee in Rivertown Repertory Theatre’s 2006 production of South Pacific; her performance as Bloody Mary earned her an Ambie Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. In SLT’s imaginative new approach to Into the Woods in 2013, as Jack’s Mother, she also made a memorable impression.
And two years ago in Neil Simon’s 45 Seconds from Broadway, also in Slidell, Renee was absolutely dazzling as a seemingly upscale society dame who, in her final scene, shorn of the gaudy make-up and outfit she had displayed earlier in the play, revealed her character to be entirely different from what she had previously led you to believe. It was a brilliantly calibrated, magnificently inventive, and utterly unforgettable performance.
Renee, who was also a long-time volunteer at SLT, will be greatly missed.
In lieu of flowers, Renee’s husband, Bill, has requested donations be made to SLT in her honor. If you would like to make a donation, please go to http://www.slidelllittletheatre.org/
In honor of Veterans Day, Jefferson Performing Arts Society will present The American Soldier, a solo performance by Douglas Taurel based on letters from soldiers ranging from the American Revolution to Afghanistan.
Whether portraying a mother visiting the Vietnam War Memorial or a soldier in the jungles of Vietnam, Taurel shows the lasting effects of war on soldiers and civilians alike. Moments of intense stress and sadness alternate with flashes of awareness, awakening, and pride from soldiers who find out what brotherhood, loyalty, and perseverance means through their experiences in training and battle.
“As a veteran myself, this show spoke to me about the personal battles faced when a soldier returns home,” said Dennis Assaf, JPAS Artistic Director. “It’s important not only for veterans to hear and see their stories told, but for others to know what it feels like to serve. Unfortunately, the fight doesn’t always end when the war does.”
The American Soldier will be presented at Westwego Performing Arts Theatre (177 Sala Ave.), November 5-8. Phase 3 guidelines are being followed by JPAS, including the required wearing of masks throughout the performance, limited & physically distanced seating, and other measures designed to keep patrons and staff safe. For tickets to The American Soldier and JPAS’ full season schedule, visit www.jpas.org or call (504) 885-2000.
Playmakers Theater in Covington (19106 Playmakers Rd.), presents A Talent for Murder, Jerome Chodorov and Norman Panama’s merry suspense drama about an internationally successful mystery novelist whose relatives wouldn’t mind killing her to get their hands on her art collection.
Starring Chris Aberle, Trevor Colbert, Shelby Duhe, Jan Gardner, Cashel Rodriguez, Jason Smith, and Alan Talbot, A Talent for Murder runs November 6-21. Tickets can be purchased by going to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/home
On November 5 at 7:30pm, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré will live stream Anthology of Negro Poets, a staged reading inspired by a 1954 record album produced and edited by native Louisianan Arna Bontemps that featured some of the 20th century’s most esteemed Black poets.
Kenna J. Moore directs Justin William Davis (Langston Hughes), Renaldo McClinton (Claude McKay), Tommye Myrick (Margaret Walker), Constance Thompson (Gwendolyn Brooks) and LeBaron Thorton (Sterling A. Brown). More information, including how to purchase tickets, can be found at http://www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/events/anthology-of-negro-poets.html