Houston and Dallas on the Evacuation Tour
I hadn’t expected to stay in Texas for 10 days when I evacuated the day before Hurricane Ida hit. I hoped it would be like so many other storms that have threatened NOLA over the years which turned out to be more much ado about nothing than the tempest. Mother Nature had another tale in mind, though.
First of all, I hope everyone came through as well as could be hoped for. While, fortunately (tho still sadly), the loss of life was minuscule here compared to the tragedy of Katrina, many people’s homes and quite a few theaters sustained serious damage, especially outside Orleans Parish. I trust that all have begun the road to recovery and hope that it will be a short and smooth one.
My 20-hour ride to Houston didn’t seem too bad until the next day when my lower back muscles developed near-crippling pain courtesy of the long journey. The right side is now better; the left side is still getting there. Amen for Advil and Aleve. Even more than these over-the-counter drugs, I am eternally grateful to my friends in Houston and Dallas who took me in, and were the most tremendous of hosts.
In case you should find yourself in either of those cities, for whatever reason, here are some suggestions for things to do as well as a few recollections of my Ida-forced time away from home.
At The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the fairly compact exhibit Monet to Matisse: Impressionism to Modernism from the Bemberg Foundation finishes its run on September 19. Alas, it delivered less than it promised with a lot of second rate works from first rate artists. Still, if you like Pierre Bonnard, you can enjoy a large roomful of his works. Plus, there are also worthy paintings from Paul Signac and Kees van Dongen, an arch portrait by Picasso, and an impressive self-portrait by the great actress Sarah Bernhardt.
I emerged a bit down from that exhibit’s shortcomings but immediately brightened after wandering through the MFAH’s permanent collection of magnificent late 19th/early 20th century works including stunners from Chagall, Modigliani, and Caillebotte as well as marvelous images from a variety of lesser known artists.
Best of all was Three Centuries of American [sic] Art–Antiquities, European and American Masterpieces from The Fayez S. Sarofim Collection which certainly delivered what it promised. From limestone relief fragments with the original pigment still on them from Egypt (Sarofim’s homeland) to a masterful early 19th century portrait by Eugène Delacroix to superb paintings by Robert Henri, John Sloan, John Singer Sargent, Marsden Hartley, and many others, this show, seen on my first day in Houston, provided welcome relief from Ida’s concerns.
And if I wasn’t too keen on the more modern, abstract works that filled about a third of the exhibit (sorry, not my bag), just seeing Edward Hopper’s breathtaking Girlie Show, in which a statuesque redhead confidently struts upon a burlesque stage wearing nothing more than pasties, a g-string and high-heeled shoes as a blue gossamer veil floats behind her, almost–almost–made the whole ordeal worth it.
The exhibit actually has a New Orleans connection. Sarofim’s wife Susan owns New Orleans Auction Galleries where my friend Michele, whom I evacuated with, works. Small world.
The next day, realizing that I’d be away for longer than the clothes I had brought with me would suffice, I went shopping at Target. It took me back to a similar experience during my Katrina evacuation as I hunted for shirts and shorts at the JCPenney in LaGrange, Georgia. History seems to repeat itself, tho Houston is a tad more cosmopolitan than LaGrange.
The Menil Collection does offer free admission, but, a couple days later, I wasn’t in the mood for the darkness of The Rothko Chapel, which is adjacent to its campus, nor the kindergartenishness of Cy Twombly’s scribblings, which take up an entire building. I did, however, enjoy the buoyancy of Dan Flavin’s light installation in Richmond Hall and items large (huge sculptures from the Pacific Islands) and small (headgear from the Tlingit peoples of Alaska) in the Main Building.
Best part of my Houston sojourn? Courtesy of an alert from Michele as well as my hostess’ niece Rita, who had joined us from NOLA, that Kermit Ruffins would be doing a Hurricane Ida Relief Concert at Axelrad Beer Garden. I went with Rita and her dad Claude, whom I’ve known since before moving down South, and arrived to discover Kermit playing fabulously, as always, on a stage with his band in the airy, table-filled garden; though we remained masked, our Covid concerns were greatly reduced by the outdoor setting and it felt like we were back home.
My time in Dallas was a little more laid back due, in part due to its being Labor Day weekend, but there too, I sought out a museum to escape for a few hours into a world of creativity and beauty.
At the Dallas Museum of Art, a colossal late 19th/early 20th century outfit from the Baga peoples of Guinea represents D’mba, the universal mother, a symbol of mature femininity, fertility, and prosperity. Weighing 75 pounds and making its wearer over 8 feet tall, I’d never seen anything like it before. Accompanying it, a cool video showed a performer wearing the outfit and dancing at a village festival.
Elsewhere in the DMA’s estimable collection, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sam F, an expressionistic portrait created during his 1985 visit to Dallas; a two-painting exhibit of the great African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner; and a haunting Hopper work featuring a phallic lighthouse are all on display along with a wide range of many other items of interest.
As it was the day before Southern Decadence, I couldn’t help but chuckle when, in the American section, I saw Portrait of a Lady, possibly Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury in a Dress from the early 1700s. Who was Lord Cornbury? Governor of New York & New Jersey from 1701-08, Hyde was a “deeply unpopular leader” and his detractors claimed he dressed in women’s clothing, supposedly to symbolize his authority as Queen Anne’s representative. While modern historians largely discount the allegations of cross-dressing, with a name like “Lord Cornbury”, I pictured him strutting down St. Ann Street looking for a place, or person, in which to bury his corn.
Get-togethers with friends precluded any visits to the bars in Oak Lawn, Dallas’ Gayborhood, but they did seem to be hopping and I envied the relaxed conviviality of the area knowing the challenges that NOLA was facing at the same time.
I just wish I could’ve brought home a gigantic version of the fig tart that my host, and former New Orleanian, Lucien made, and served a slice to everyone back in Louisiana. It may not have been the solution to everything but its scrumptiousness could make one forget Ida’s effects for a few yummy moments.
Curtain Up…and, sadly, Down
It seems like our theater community just can’t catch a break these days. Just as Covid cases seemed to be lessening and the fall season was about to blossom, the Delta surge came along cancelling or postponing some productions. As the surge was beginning to subside, Hurricane Ida struck us. This too shall pass, but in the meantime, zheesh!
First the good news.
Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent continues its run on the North Shore at Mandeville’s 30 by Ninety Theatre (880 Lafayette St.) and has been extended through October 3. Tickets are available for most performances. For more information and to book seats, go to https://ci.ovationtix.com/35711/production/1070145
As of now, SuspiraAcqua: A Haunted Water Ballet, will be sticking to its schedule of September 20, 25, 26, & 30 in the pool at the Drifter Hotel (3522 Tulane Ave.). At press time, however, the folks at Aqua Mob, NOLA’s first and only community-based water ballet ensemble, were assessing the feasibility of the situation and would be making a final decision within a few days. Check for updates on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AquaMobNewOrleans) or at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/suspiracqua-a-haunted-water-ballettickets-167251841761 Tickets are available at the door, which opens at 7pm prior to the 8pm show, so if you’re in the neighborhood, cruise over there to check things out.
UPDATE: Aqua Mob posted the following statement on Facebook: “With gratitude and love, Aqua Mob requests your patience with the opening of SuspiraAcqua! We were about 75% of the way finished with this sparkly show when Ida hit. Many in our group stayed, and almost everyone has been hit hard in some way. I am happy to say that our amazing team is still dedicated to bringing you our campiest, sexiest show ever! We just need some time to sort out the dates and get situated. We will be issuing refunds to folks who have already bought tickets. In the meantime, please support the bars and clubs that are reopening now!”
Now the okay news.
The NOLA Project’s fall show appearing in NOMA’s Sculpture Garden, has had to postpone its opening. Tell It To Me Sweet, which takes a brand-new look at five very old European and African American fairy tales and folk stories, is now likely to open in mid-October according to The NOLA Project’s Artistic Director A.J. Allegra. More information will be forthcoming as NOMA’s staff returns and assesses the damage to the Sculpture Garden. For further information go to https://www.nolaproject.com/tell-it-to-me-sweet
Despite the intense battering that Kenner sustained, Rivertown Theaters’ buildings mostly held together. There was some damage, however, to the warehouse building where sets and props are built, some trees & a bench in the courtyard were lost, and awnings & some overhangs were damaged; they are assessing the interior and roof for any other damage or leaks. Because of this, their season opening production of Hello, Dolly! has been postponed. Check out https://www.rivertowntheaters.com/ for updates about Dolly and news about their next production in October, Cabaret.
And last, the bad news.
Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s production of the 2009 Tony winner God of Carnage, has been postponed indefinitely as its Westwego Performing Arts Theatre sustained serious damage to its orchestra pit and scene shop among other places.
UPDATE: JPAS has announced that God of Carnage will run two weekends, October 1-10 at Teatro Wego! (177 Sala Ave.). Additional info can be found at https://www.jpas.org/
Slidell Little Theatre’s Matilda was only able to get in one performance before Ida struck. According to its Slidell Little Theatre Hurricane Ida Recovery GoFundMe page “Our theater received substantial damage from Hurricane Ida. We have significant roof damage, as well as water and mold damage inside of the theater. Donated funds will be used for remediation, wet vac & water leak repair, carpet & tile removal/replacement, and roof tarp installation & damage repair to the hole in the roof.” If you’d like to help out, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/tmz7z-slidell-little-theatre-hurricane-ida-
We wish both of these theaters as speedy a recovery as possible.
Finally, the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen made it through the storm okay but had to cancel World’s Greatest Johnny Cash Experience. Its next show will be Swing That Music: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong October 22-November 7. Overseen by Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Wendell Brunious, I hope that by then we’ll all have recovered enough to want to “be in that number.” For tickets and more information, go to https://www.nationalww2museum.org/programs/swing-music-tribute-louis-armstrong