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1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd (11:00 AM- 11:00 PM)
The Holy Trinity Cathedral is inviting Grecophiles of all ages out to Bayou St. John for goat burgers, traditional music and dancing, and regional libations
The Convention Center (2:00PM- 5:00 PM)
An experience for both foodies and wine connoisseurs, with live music by The Nigel Hall Band
Michalopoulos Studio (2:00PM and 8:00 PM)
An interactive and sparkling performance presented by Nari Tomassetti
Zephyr Field (4:00PM and 6:00 PM)
New Orleans baseball against the Omaha Storm Chasers
Gerken Bike’s 5 Year Anniversary Party
Gerken Bike’s Back Yard (7:00 PM)
Drinks! Snacks! Thanks! And music by Raya Brass Band and others
Tulane University’s Dixon Hall (8:00 PM)
The final evening of a chamber music festival that has something for classical aficionados and dilettantes alike
Shadowbox Theatre (8:00 PM)
Straightforward conversational drama explores one area's gentrification through 50 years
Howlin’ Wolf (9:00 PM)
A funky two night celebration of the band’s 30th anniversary
Hi- Ho Lounge (11:00 PM)
Weekly dance party with the Queen of Soul
Balm in Gilead
A NoDef Theatre Review
New Orleans theatre companies The NOLA Project and Cripple Creek Theatre Co. come together this fall for Lanford Wilson's 1965 play, 'Balm in Gilead.' Jonas Griffin reviews this local look at downtrodden dreamers.
From Envie to Fair Grinds to Zotz, neighborhood cafes in New Orleans are populated by a recurring hodgepodge of characters. The guests that fill these hovels tend to impart more personality to the place than decorations or menu offerings. Like a living room, the same people show up like clockwork to gather and lounge, alone or in chattering groups. Available for anyone to witness any time, such cafes offer a public display of community.
Lanford Wilson's play Balm in Gilead, now playing at Nims Black Box Theatre on the campus of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (2800 Chartres St.), is centered on this concept. The production, which is a collaboration of two of post-K New Orleans' most ambitious theatre companies in The NOLA Project and Cripple Creek Theatre Company and directed by Mark Routhier, places the audience outside of an all-night coffee shop “where the riff-rafs, the bums, the petty thieves, the lost, and the desperate of the big city come together.” Set in Joe's Diner, a greasy spoon New York City, this is more seedy and tawdry than most New Orleans cafes. This coffee shop isn't a far cry from Jackson Square after midnight, or local dive bars. The chosen poison of many among the disparate lot that gather here isn't liquor but heroin: a tragic imitation of something that might actually heal, the mystical Balm of Gilead.
In the cafe, everyone is living off of everyone else to get by. Dreams are deferred and attitudes are suspicious and cantankerous. The stage is well-designed, highly realistic and multi-layered with a full counter with stools, Coca-Cola ads, cozy booths with table juke boxes. Walls are suggested by staggered hunks of brick, outside of which cigarette butts and old newspapers sit in a heap. Customers begrudge payment on the countless cups of coffee and greasy food. Prices aside, however, the cafe is not in the position to offer what they need. The prostitute sips her coffee but is not content. Whenever the bum gets a cigarette, he doesn't puff with gratitude. No one gets satisfaction because the only quality that animates these folks is their restless seeking.
Boasting a cast of 25 players, the play thrives in offering an impressionistic, highly-environmental portrait of those waiting in the underbelly. In doing so, you are able to learn and empathize with only one or two characters. Aside from Chicago-transplant, Darlene (Kristin Witterschein), the innocent who first appears in a shocking white spotlight, everyone else is a tumble of fitful physicality, verbal boisterousness confusing the landscape. Ms. Witterschein's fantastic, well-paced monologue from a bar stool lends the play much of its depth and thoughtfulness. She tells the humorous yet mournful story of getting her marriage license with her Alabama-native beau, Cotton, and muses on her penchant for collecting luxury hotel towels and her picturesque backyard view from her Chicago apartment. Witterschein imbues Darlene with bubbliness and naivetee, chirping like a semi-obnoxious songbird. Some in the cafe listen but they don't understand that kind of life anymore. Darlene seems doomed to adapt to their hopelessness.
Balm opens with a raucous, frenetic scene at the cafe, producing a choir of chaos. So much is happening you're not quite sure where to look or who to listen to. An audience member is an anonymous observer, eavesdropping in on the lesbian triangle or watching the wild transvestites jokingly solicit. The bum outside is in your face, desperate for change. The cafe thumps and grinds and all are flailing and jousting. This overwhelming opening is eventually repeated, but features another character speaking over the tumult from the fire escape ladder.
The chaos could have been managed more effectively in this case so that
Cutting through the din is Andrew Vaught's performance as Dopey, an eccentric bum who forms philosophies around things he read somewhere. He lays down the law of the land early in the play, describing the symbiotic social system of pimp and prostitute as a mode of survival. When Dopey attains temporary lucidity, Vaught's booming voice is commanding, which is much-needed in the midst of all the personality surrounding him. He's playful but serious.
The impressionistic aesthetic is developed by a kind of music video portrait that closes the first act. A heavy, slow emotional ballad soars over the quieted cafe, mostly empty except for Darlene and her charming but ill-fated love interest, Joe (James Yeargain) who holds a stare. Yeargain plays Joe cool and collected , but that veneer is complicated by his skittishness at getting involved with the big drug dealer around town. From chaos to melancholic serenity, Routhier ensures a textured, oscillating rhythm.
Much like the scene at the coffee shop in Wilson's play, the chatter over chai and chess games in the Crescent City is littered with big plans and dreams deferred. Brimming with energy and and tingling with possibility, New Orleans has always been a place where such searchers congregated. This play has the potential to speak to the city's seekers about navigating the harsh real world while keeping one's ambitions fortified. It's heroin in Balm of Gilead, but there's always something easily available to distract you from your dreams. Take a visit to this cafe, but don't stay long. You've gotta get moving.
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Ian Hoch, Sarah Esenwein, Ryan Sparks, Will Dilella, Chris Rinaldi, Lianna Patch, Phil Yiannopoulos, Cate Czarnecki, Jonas Griffin, Jennifer Abbot, Mary Kilpatrick, Elaina Patton, Mike Horst, Devin Bambrick, Katherine McGuire, Norris Ortolano, Joe Shriner
Ryan Sparks, Kerem Ozkan
Michael Weber, B.A.
Assistant Managing Editor
B. E. Mintz
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