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Catch the Wall

NOLA Project Brings Bounce to the Stage: Theatre Review



After two years' hard twerk, NOLA Project opened Catch the Wall to a packed auditorium at Dillard University Thursday night. 

 

Written by Gabrielle Reisman, the play tells the story of three New Orleans public school children who decide to make a music video honoring their recently killed favorite bounce artist, Benefit (Joyce Deal). 

 

The play contains a lot of bounce music, both on stage and in the audience.  Though Reisman's plays have been produced all over the country, Catch the Wall carries a particularly local resonance.  While blight-ridden neighborhoods, failing schools systems, and extreme violence are not exclusive to New Orleans, a burning passion for life through music and dance provide the flavor we call home.

 

Early on, the audience is encouraged to dance to the bounce music.  While Deal starts the charge from the back of the house, she focuses quickly on the front of the crowd, losing those in the upper rows. As the ice breaker for shaking your booty in what is normally the comfort of anonymity, the performers' energy delivered well but could benefit with even more wrangling of the audience. This may seem trivial, but as the play continuously reiterates the distance between two worlds that seemingly overlap--namely lower income, predominately black communities and the misdirected school system to which these very children attend--fostering a greater sense of community in the audience becomes necessary.

 

The play continuously pokes fun at Teach for America (TFA) and the ineffectiveness of quickly trained, twenty-something wannabe do-gooders in the New Orleans public school system.  While not vilifying the teachers per se, Catch the Wall beautifully illustrates that a top-down system brought in from some corporate laboratory in Atlanta lacks the means to connect with children who go home past flying bullets to broken homes.  In a telling moment when the children are misbehaving and TFA-approved methods seem at a complete loss, the principal slips from her affected speech and directs the children with the cadence and rhythms they might hear at home. They listen immediately.  Outsourcing rules and textbook culture will never work in such a strong community, Reisman is saying.

 

Catch the Wall illustrates how music can be the access point for seemingly hard to reach children, especially when cultures can be so different.  A dynamic character throughout, Melonie  (meaning "black" or "dark"; played by Kristin Witterschein), provides a lien between the white and affluent TFA world and that of black culture and bounce music. She helps one of the teachers break out of his suit and embrace the community he has come to help. While two of the three actors playing children are currently enrolled at Lusher Charter High School, age is no issue.  Corinne Williams and Troy Privott give strong performances, both in terms of acting and, well, twerking.  The third student is played by Tenaj Jackson, another slightly older New Orleans native and an incredible force on stage throughout the piece.

 

The piece is well choreographed, but not only in terms of Bounce.  Benefit's ghost needs physical contact in order to interact with anything in the living world.  This gives opportunity for wonderful tableaux and whirling movements across the stage, sometimes connected by just a finger, sometimes by a full grasp of the heart. While sometimes the rules of the great beyond and the ghosts' goals seem to shift or are unclear due to loud music, overlapping speech, or breakneck speed, her presence is viscerally felt.  Both her presence and the show as a whole are aided by a slew of visually exciting projections by Grant Ingram, videos and abstract imagery that fill the ever-shifting space by set designer TJ Bogan.  

 

Overall, the play speaks where those overly concerned with being politically correct fear to go. If problems plague a community, trying to impose what may have worked elsewhere is no panacea to New Orleanian social problems. Instead, in an effort to understand we should embrace difference in others, even if their lower halves seem to move at speeds once thought impossible.

 

Catch the Wall plays at Dillard University's Cook Theatre (2601 Gentilly Blvd.), at 8 p.m. on 15-16, 21-23; and 3 p.m. on March 17, 24. For ticket information, visit The NOLA Project website.

Erin Rose
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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

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