Carrie: Blood in the Water at the Drifter Hotel through October 7
Aqua Mob’s Water Ballerinas and Ballerinos may not be quite ready yet for the Olympics, but do any of those athletes who “go for the gold” perform their synchronized swimming routines wearing high-heeled shoes as Daisy Konfused does in Carrie: Blood in the Water? I think not.
I’ve been attending Aqua Mob’s extravaganzas at the Drifter Hotel for the past few years and, while always enjoyable in an “only-in-New-Orleans” way, they’ve sometimes been a little rough around the edges, a kind of gonzo community theater.
While forsaking none of the wildly imaginative creativity that we expect from Aqua Mob, Carrie: Blood in the Water offers its most accomplished effort to date.
Perhaps it seemed that way because I’m more familiar with the Stephen King tale of high school hijinks run amok than Alien, which inspired last year’s show, or Dario Argento’s Suspiria from which 2021’s SuspiriAcqua: A Haunted Water Ballet was derived.
More likely, however, it’s due to Cody Evans who wrote and directed Blood in the Water with an eye towards clarity, faithfully distilling the original’s most important moments, but adding a new stunner of a finale. He also puts in a cameo towards the end that, well, no spoilers here, but it raises the show’s special effects quotient into the stratosphere.
One might think that eight credited choreographers might spoil the metaphorical broth, but Carrie’s water ballet sequences outshine those that have come before; that is not meant as faint praise as those sequences have been the highlights of Aqua Mob’s previous productions. Here, tho, the lifts seem to be more thrilling, the swimming more synchronized, and the ballet for Carrie (Madeline Corcoran) and her prom date Todd (Hilary Neeb) provides a fitting tenderness.
Daisy Konfused and Madeline Corcoran in Carrie–Blood in the Water (photo by Brian Boudreaux)
Add to all this Daisy Konfused marvelously channeling Piper Laurie as Carrie’s religion-obsessed mother complete with flowing fire red hair; the band The Bomb Pulse pumping out hits from Nirvana and other rock groups that aptly comment on the plot; a lesbian cheerleader water ballet sequence; and an enormous blood-squirting pig (front row–watch out!), and you get an evening of wild fun and athletic accomplishment from a multi-talented cast of over 20.
My only quibble is that the 15-minute intermission breaks the dramatic momentum Evans & Co. have suitably created. On the other hand, with its less-than-an-hour running time, anything that extends our stay at the Drifter gets a gold medal from me.
[For tickets and more info, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/carrie-blood-in-the-water-tickets-698151829917]
Into the Breeches! at Playmakers Theater through October 15
How fortunate Playmakers Theater is to have Arden Allen Dufilho in Covington. She directs. She serves as President of Playmakers’ Board of Directors. And she acts, gloriously, including an Amanda Wingfield that was one of the finest I’ve ever encountered.
Currently, she can be seen in Into the Breeches! portraying Celeste Fielding, a local actress once known for her Juliet but now better suited to be her Nurse (tho don’t tell her that!). “Now” is during World War II and in George Brant’s dramedy, because the men are away fighting the Nazis, as one thing leads to another, the women take over the many male roles in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V trilogy so that their community theater can continue providing entertainment during those challenging times. Inspiration, too, what with Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech (“We happy few, we band of brothers”).
With plummy accent, Dufilho manifests Celeste’s overly healthy ego, every inch a grande dame. Deliriously uber-dramatic, Dufilho comes off at first as aptly bitchy but, after a scene reminiscent of the deglamoured Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, ultimately quite touching and, surprise, a true team player. Through some alchemical process, Dufilho adds an extra oomph to her lines that gives them subtext and sub-subtext, and if looks could kill, Dufilho would be a murderer. Her Celeste is an absolute delight to behold.
Based on an actual incident at a theater in Cleveland, Director Merry Antoon has reset the play in New Orleans; it’s not a big deal as the references are few and far between, but certain plot twists involving overcoming racism become that much more improbable in a Southern setting.
Brant’s script chugs along and points are made about various forms of (in)equality, but by Act Two, as things click into place, it actually turns rather heartwarming even if not entirely believable.
Antoon’s staging is not the most exciting but it gets the job done and, if somewhat static, such is the nature of Brant’s script as we watch auditions and actors, seated, reading their Shakespearean lines. One could ask for smoother transitions between scenes, but that might come in the course of the run.
If Dufilho makes the most of the script’s best drawn character, her castmates all do well in their less flashy roles.
As Maggie Dalton, the troupe’s fearless leader, a function she’s inherited from her husband while he’s overseas, Evette Randolph winningly underplays Maggie’s determination and strength, allowing us to root for her to pull off the big production.
Jennifer Patterson, whose self-centered Lucy Van Pelt in 2020’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown I thought was “definitive”, here embodies a completely different type of character as a low-key, gentle soul who desperately hopes that her husband makes it back home alive.
Arden Allen Dufilho and Jennifer Patterson in Into the Breeches!
The ever-reliable Tom Hassinger ultimately reveals that his curmudgeon has a heart of gold. And Summer Kavalir, Jaclyn White Dove Krottner, Naomi O’Donnell and Michael O’Donnell all portray their amateur thespians with utter truthfulness.
Into the Breeches! may not be Shakespeare, but with generous helpings of the Bard’s lines scattered throughout and Arden Allen Dufilho leading a most agreeable cast, all’s well that ends well.
[For more info and tickets, go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/]
Harold Ellis Clark’s Back in the Day debuts at the André Cailloux Center for Performing Arts (2541 Bayou Rd.) in a No Dream Deferred world premiere production. The play, set in present-day Algiers, LA, reunites an ex-offender, recently released from prison, with the woman she rescued from a violent incident 16 years earlier. It stars Karen Kaia Livers, Del Joseph, April Louise, Riga Ruby, and Martin “Bats” Bradford, and is directed by No Dream Deferred’s Producing Artistic Director Lauren Turner Hines.
Hines said, “We are so grateful to Harold for crafting this story because it has the power to transform the community. Back in the Day amplifies the voices of those who we seldom hear from. No Dream Deferred’s mission is to bring these voices center stage”.
Back in the Day runs October 12-22, and tickets & more information can be found at https://www.nodreamdeferrednola.com/back-in-the-day
Le Code Noir, by the late Mark R. Sumner and Tommye Myrick who directs, premieres in Congo Square as New Orleans’ first historical outdoor drama with an impressive cast of more than 50 performing artists, including actors, singers, dancers, and musicians including world-renowned percussionist and musical arranger Bill Summers.
The drama takes its name from the “Code Noir”, an edict issued by King Louis XIV of France in 1685. Its 48 articles laid down rules for governing the enslaved and the Free People of Color. The Code remained in effect until Emancipation in the early 1860s.
Based on historical events that explore themes centered on regional and national figures, customs, and traditions, Le Code Noir chronicles the 30-year saga of a 17-year-old enslaved African girl who arrived at the port of New Orleans in 1794. Auctioned by her former master, who was fleeing Saint-Domingue during the Haitian Revolution, audiences will witness how significant events in Louisiana’s history impacted her life and forever changed America.
Le Code Noir plays October 13, 14, and 15 at 5pm. Tickets are free for this Voices in the Dark Repertory production. More info at http://voicesinthedarkrepertory.com/LeCodeNoir.html
Fat Squirrel presents Stephanie Garrison’s new play Broken Codes beginning on October 16 and running until October 27 at Big Couch (3400 St. Claude Ave.)
In this spy-drama, Danny and Val fight for survival and freedom against the powerful Megaport. Set in a near-future New Orleans and coastal Louisiana, the script tackles existential challenges, including coastal land loss, gentrification, & classism, facing our area through the lens of the sci-fi genre.
Cammie West directs Broken Codes which features Drew Stroud, Bethany Joy Lee, Mary Bliss McCrossen and Nicolas A. Lewis. More info and tickets and can be found at https://fatsquirrelnola.square.site/product/broken-codes/25
Louisiana’s own Varla Jean Merman returns to NOLA with her newest show Stand By Your Drag in which this show-biz survivor takes a stand for life, liberty and the pursuit of non-skid breath mints.
It’s been a year since the inimitable Varla’s earth-shaking, knee-breaking “Tic-Taccident” found her flat on her back with her legs in the air. Since that time, the daffy diva has worked hard to get back on her feet, on the stage, and in everyone’s pants. Now with drag bans, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and a skyrocketing bar tab, America is conspiring to knock Varla off her Lucite heels AGAIN!
Written by Jeffery Roberson, Jacques Lamarre, & Ricky Graham, and directed by Michael Schiralli, Stand By Your Drag plays October 13 and 14 at Café Istanbul (2372 St. Claude Ave., in the New Orleans Healing Arts Center). Tickets at https://m.bpt.me/event/6114861
Varla Jean Merman and Jasper
New in New York
I had heard about the off-Broadway musical Titaníque that parodies Titanic as well as Celine Dion. But it had been years since I saw the blockbuster movie and my feelings for the Canadian singer were merely comme ci comme ça. After one friend, though, and another and another all raved about the show, I decided to check it out. I’m titanically happy I did.
Now playing at the Daryl Roth Theatre (101 E. 15 St.), Titaníque wants to do nothing but entertain and Marla Mindelle/Constantine Rousouli/Tye Blue’s witty book allows it to do just that. It’s silly fun, smartly done like a MAD Magazine piece come to life only with a gay Gay GAY sensibility.
The laughs come steadily interspersed with pretty numbers from the diva’s songbook. RuPaul’s Drag Race hat (wig?) tips abound. The Stage Manager, who makes several appearances, is aptly compared to Wednesday Addams. Tina Turner is the iceberg that sunk the infamous ocean liner; or does she just play it? Very funny either way. And no need to think too hard about such subtle gradations of humor…or logic.
What utterly got me to jump into the Titaníque lifeboat fan club was when Drew Droege as Rose’s mother Mrs. (cue the bukkake joke) Bukater (Frances Fisher in the movie) tossed out a series of ad libs including one referencing Rep. Lauren Boebert’s vaping in a Denver theater which had happened just two days earlier! Now that’s some good improv sh*t.
Blue’s very well done direction allows the incredibly talented cast to sail along merrily on the show’s daffy waves. Most impressive is how Blue has expertly guided his “thespian manifest” to switch, at times, to seriousness so not everything comes off as just wacky; you can sense these bits as the audience quiets and leans in, momentarily eschewing its otherwise constant yaks.
Jackie Burns as a Celine Dion on acid with an accent from who-knows-where, currently heads the crew. None of them were part of the original cast, including two crackerjack understudies who went on at the performance I attended, but all of them are terrific including RPDR alum Willam as Victor Garber who played Thomas Andrews, the ship’s builder, in the movie. Got that?
Brad Greer, Tess Marshall, Terrence Williams Jr., Chani Maisonet, Jackie Burns, Lindsay Heather Pearce, Michael Williams, Marcus Antonio, Willam, Cayleigh Capaldi, and Drew Droege in Titaníque
So if you have a sinking feeling in these challenging times, a visit to Titaníque just might allow your heart, and certainly your funny bone, to go on. (https://titaniquemusical.com/)
I had seen Kimberly Akimbo, the Tony Award-winning Jeanine Tesori/David Lindsay-Abaire musical, two years ago off-Broadway and loved it. Would it make the transfer to the bigger confines of Broadway’s Booth Theatre (222 W. 45 St.) intact? Indeed it has.
Based on Lindsay-Abaire’s dramedy of the same name about a teenage girl who has a rare disease that causes her to age rapidly and prematurely, the musical version retains the play’s quirky humor which, for some reason, seems more plausible in a musical, and adds four geeky high school classmates of Kimberly’s to winning effect.
It takes a little while to enter Kimberly’s crazy world, but once the intros are done, disbelief fades and it’s easy to surrender to its high quotient of charm. Jessica Stone directs with a light hand, giving the story clarity and a cinematic flow.
As with her Tony-winning score for Fun Home, you may not exit the theater humming any of Tesori’s tunes, but at least they’re individualistic and don’t all sound the same as so many other shows’ songs do. And, like Fun Home, I suspect some of the numbers such as Anagram, How to Wash a Check and the touching The Inevitable Turn will grow on you with subsequent listening.
Victoria Clark, a well-deserving Tony Award winner for her Kimberly, conquers the challenge of playing a mostly passive character by infusing her with subtle passion, bountiful hope, and joyous humanity. If I thought Bonnie Milligan as Kimberly’s larcenous aunt was overpowering and too much off-Broadway, she fills the larger Booth Theatre suitably and nicely.
Justin Cooley, as another of Kimberly’s classmates and, ultimately, her boyfriend, delivers a sharp, adorable performance as half of one of Broadway’s oddest and yet most beguiling romances; catch him before he ages out of the role. All the other cast members are topnotch.
Victoria Clark, Justin Cooley, and Steven Boyer in Kimberly Akimbo (photo by Joan Marcus)
Anagrams play a supporting part in Kimberly Akimbo, and I’ve been trying to find an appropriate one by transforming “Kimberly Akimbo” or “Jeanine Tesori” or “David Lindsay-Abaire”. I’ve flunked that effort, so will just say “Go see it” and let you do the anagramming. (https://kimberlyakimbothemusical.com/)
I wish I could say “Go see Swing State”, Rebecca Gilman’s new play at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane thru Oct. 28). But as it’s being presented by Audible, you may want to wait till you can listen to it in the comfort of your own home. Maybe.
I’ve admired Gilman’s two earlier plays from about 20 years ago, Spinning Into Butter and Boy Gets Girl, and was looking forward to Swing State. And, indeed, about a quarter of the drama is gripping. The other three fourths, however, are filled with exposition, foreshadowing, and repetitious monologs about the prairie that surrounds the Wisconsin home where it is set.
Worse, while Gilman’s heart is certainly in the right place as we see in her tale of small town (in)justice, to be told that MAGA folks are not very nice people is hardly news. Sure the meanie sheriff is given some backstory to explain her orneriness, but had Gilman endowed her with a more complex personality, the script would’ve been much more involving.
I wish Gilman had, perhaps, fractured her narrative, placing her scenes out of chronological order; it might have made things more interesting. Similarly, while you may want to move in to Todd Rosenthal’s naturalistic set, a more poetic design that could’ve conveyed some of the prairie’s beauty that we hear so much about, might have added to the production. Robert Falls’ solid direction might have likewise benefitted from a little more lyricism.
Still, Mary Beth Fisher is excellent as a widow trying to figure out what to do with her property and the rest of her life. I was also much taken with the gentle sheriff’s deputy of Anne E. Thompson as she tries to do the right thing; I hope we see more of this young, appealing actress.
Mary Beth Fisher and Bubba Weiler in Swing State
In its depiction of loss–of habitat, of community, of values–Swing State paints an ineffably sad portrait. I wouldn’t expect Gilman to sugarcoat things, but I would’ve hoped for a little more artistry as we’ve previously seen in her work. (https://swingstateplay.com/)
As for museum shows, while there wasn’t a lot of must-see exhibits, a few items stood out.
At the Whitney Museum, Trust Me (thru Feb. 2024) “brings together photographic works that invite shared emotional experience.” Hmmm…isn’t that what all art aspires to do? The exhibited works are thus thematically related superficially but only in a hodgepodge sort of way.
Elysian (2018) by D’Angelo Lovell Williams (1992-)
It was worth exploring this exhibition, however, to encounter D’Angelo Lovell Williams’ Elysian (2018), its featured image. In it, this 31-year-old photographer from Jackson, MS, who focuses on queer Black life, presents a haystack with two figures, one Black whom we see in profile, the other white, only whose arms and legs are visible. Their genders are ambiguous and while it seems to be some sort of amorous encounter, the photo leaves much to the imagination. And I mean that as a high compliment.
Into the Woods: French Drawings and Photographs from the Karen B. Cohen Gift (thru Oct. 22) at the Morgan Library & Museum gives us just that–lots of 19th century landscapes that kinda blur together about halfway through the exhibit.
Rocky Landscape with Red Tree (1874-76) by George Sand (1804–1876)
I’m happy I went, however, if only to see the half dozen or so “Landscapes of Chance” by the renowned French author George Sand (1804–1876). She created these small charming watercolor landscapes by manipulating paper and pigments, rather than “just” painting the various scenes, and then adding on colorful plant matter to them, thus achieving a three-dimensional effect. Very cool.
ED RUSCHA/NOW THEN at the Museum of Modern Art (thru Jan. 13) features over 200 works, including paintings, drawings, prints, photography, artist’s books, etc., by the 85-year-old artist.
Ruscha has had an impressive and wide-ranging career. Though I can admire his use of all sorts of substances to create his art (rose petals, chewing tobacco, gunpowder, his own blood) and his accordion-folded book Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) is a modern classic, a kinda early version Google map, I prefer his luminous sunsets and landscapes of the Hollywood hills.
A visit to MoMA, however, is worth it if for nothing else to experience his Chocolate Room (1970/2023), a single room installation in which hundreds of sheets of paper which have been screenprinted with locally sourced chocolate paste have been tiled from floor to ceiling like shingles. The result surrounds viewers with a soothing monochromatic wallpaper and the subtle but unmistakable aroma of rich chocolate. It just might be the single most unique artwork on display in New York now. Yum!
Chocolate Room (1970/2023) by Ed Ruscha (1937-)