Friday, July 11, 2008

The state of theatre

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the city of New Orleans was reeling from devastation no major urban center had ever withstood. All of the major performance venues for theater were either detroyed, severely damaged, or in serious doubt of being able to sustain a season with a population that was widely dispersed in other towns and cities. Yet, within six months the acting community was back in businesss staging theatrical productions for the psychological benefit of the weary populace and the uplifting of the scores of dedicated theatre professionals and volunteers who had returned to the city they loved. While I was not able to be here in the early days, I was able to witness several productions in 2006 and many more in the 15 months since I returned. Recently, a spectacular version of "Cabaret," originally meant to be staged in the September that followed Katrina, was restaged at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. What made this production so special was that virtually every original cast member (Jessie Terrebone, Roy Haylock, and Jimmy Murphy among them) were back for this production, almost three years later. Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre is in the midst of their run for "L'il Abner" this weekend and this follows a well received "Pal Joey" that opened the season less than a month ago. The Tulane Shakespeare Festival mounted two very strong productions of "The Taming of the Shrew" and "As You Like It," both cast in innovative settings that, for the most part, worked very well. Barbara Motley, the proprietress at Cabaret Le Chat Noir has been featured on the latest cover of New Orleans Magazine, a credit to her skills as a cabaret operator, member of the Downtown Development District, and a promoter of local theatre. Uptown, the Anthony Bean Community Theatre and Acting School have served up "Unplugged" with original music and lyrics by young peformers of the current hip hop generation. Several new production companies have opened and one of them, InSideOut Productions is mounting a moving performance of a Southern death row drama titled "Coyote on a Fence" by Bruce Graham. Directed by Ashley Riccord and starring her husband Michael Aaron Santos, this small cast with big production values shows what is capable in a post-Katrina theater environment. Across town a new staging of Chekov's "Uncle Vanya" is playing and a new production of "Private Eyes" opens this evening at Southern Repertory for their City Series. Another new company, FourFront Productions, will be presenting their first offering, "Gutenberg! The Musical!" in August. I've left out a number of others, but not intentionally. It's just that the theatre scene is so varied here that I wanted to give examples of all of the contrasting choices on a present-day menu that almost three years ago lacked basic ingredients or even a serving menu. It is a credit to the amateurs and professionals who tread the boards that theatre has rebounded so well in this city that needs so badly to be entertained and for its collective imagination to take flight.

No comments: