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Fair Grounds, all day
Final day of weekend one
Bayou Beer Garden, 9AM
The most important meal of the year
Prytania Theatre, 10AM
1933 sci-fi horror classic
Saenger Theatre, 3PM
YouTube superstar comes to town
Marigny Opera House, 5PM
Feat. guitarist and composer David Sigler
Eiffel Society, 7PM
Lord of the Rings burlesque
Maple Leaf Bar, 7PM
Feat. Walter "Wolfman" Washington and Russell Batiste, plus a crawfish boil
Bar Redux, 9PM
NOLA-based Balkan band
Zeitgeist Arts Center, 9PM
Helen Gillet presents Belgian avant garde films
Louis Armstrong Park, 1PM
A protest for freedom, jobs, justice, and sanctuary for all
Peoples Health Jazz Market, 6:30PM
CNN presents event, with post-screening conversation with anchor Brooke Baldwin
House of Blues, 7PM
Carver Club, 8PM
Treme club shifts its weekly show to the historic Carver Theatre
Cafe Istanbul, 9:15PM
Evening of poetry with Chuck Perkins, plus live music
Blue Nile, 11PM
Famed brass all-stars play Frenchmen
Ernest N. Morial Cenvention Center
Kick off day of tech conference
Marigny Recording Studio, 3PM
First annual showcase of the label's artists
Greater New Orleans Foundation, 4:30PM
Music from Irma Thomas, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Rebirth Brass Band
343 Baronne St., 6:30PM
Chardonnay vs. Pinot Noir
House of Blues, 7PM
Grammy-nominated French heavy metal
Little Gem Saloon, 7:30PM
Stick around for Honey Island Swamp Band at 11PM
Smoothie King Center, 8PM
50th anniversary tour
Feat. Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers
Octavia Books, 4:30PM
From "How to Be A Supervillain"
Hosted by Pistil & Stamen Flower Farm and Studio
Music at the Mint, 7PM
Feat. Tim Laughlin
The Sanctuary, 8PM
CD release show
Snug Harbor, 8PM
Feat. Marcia Ball, Joe Krown, and Tom McDermott
In support of newest album 'Whiteout Conditions'
Saenger Theatre, 8:30PM
Blue Nile, 9PM
Feat. Ivan Neville
Gasa Gasa, 9PM
Feat. Chrome Pony and Post Animal in support
Blue Nile, 11:55PM
Next generation NOLA brass
Pres Hall, 12AM
With Jon Cleary, Benny Bloom, & Friends
Fair Grounds, all day
Weekend two kicks off
Tubby & Coo's, 4PM
Star Wars party
Jazz in the Park
Russell Batiste and friends
Crescent Park, 5:45PM
Get sweaty and centered
Ashé Cac, 6PM
Live music, DJs, and dance
The Music Box Village, 6:30PM
Punk rock percussion
Rosalie Apothecary, 7PM
Class for women's health
House of Blues, 7:30PM
Benefit concert for his namesake foundation
The Historic Carver Theater, 8PM
Feat. Ian Neville, Nikki Glaspie, SSHH feat. Zak Starkey of The Who
The Howlin Wolf, 9PM
Republic NOLA, 9PM
Feat. George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste
Music at the Mint, 9PM
Live music to benefit the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp
NoDef's Theatre Critic Does Opening Night: Cicada, The Other Mozart, Boesman and Lena
Two or three years ago, I grew disgruntled with the New Orleans Fringe Festival. Except for any absolute obligation shows, I started avoiding it in its entirety. Sheer size had not made the fest a “victim of its own success.” There’d been no noticeable decline in the quality of its slate. Rather I believed that the rest of the New Orleans scene had fallen victim to it. It’s all in the timing: Whereas in most cities a fringe fest invigorates the off-season, the theatrical dead zone, ours had set up camp in the middle of prime time – in a town where workable periods for full-run shows is already severely limited by the major holidays – then grown so huge as to suck all the air out of the room.
Local producers not ensconced in the suburbs now have little choice but to close their fall productions a week early to get the hell out of the way or fold one weekend of whatever they’re presenting under the Fest banner. And if Fringe Fest gave back value to those overshadowed producers in the form of new butts regularly in the seats, I couldn’t see it. The 800-pound gorilla of the fall feeds mostly itself, returning next season tipping in at 900 pounds.
This year, I beganreviewing for the Defender and figured that I was due for a reality check. So, I signed up for a full plate of everything that was not puppetry, burlesque, sideshow, stand-up, poetry, or dance. (In other words, the plays.) Is the breadth and depth of Fringe Fest offerings really outweighed by its voracious omnipresence, or was I just being a bitch?
If my first night running around town is any indication, it looks like the latter…
Cicada (Lofty Productions, New Orleans)
The production of Mary Jacobs’ Cicada, by Lofty Productions at Claire’s Garden – in Gentilly, way off the official Fest map – harkens back to what fringe fests used to be: the loving presentation of technically modest, thematically adventurous, interesting but uncommercial work. Cicada concerns itself with Joann (Abigail Riddick), a workaday grunt whose ordinarily unhappy life is notable only for her status as the very young single mother of eight-year-old Cole (Preston Slaughter.) Cole has been giving her the silent treatment, without explanation, for many weeks. Is he sick? Depressed? Going through a phase?
Joann's conversations with the one bright spot in her life, her tippling lesbian BFF Ellen (Christina Ingrassia) – a near-stereotype, akin to the sassy gay friend, redeemed by the modesty of her sassiness – with Cole’s concerned teacher Ms. Miro (Jasmine Johnson,) and, most memorably, with Cole himself Jacobs limns the depth of Joann’s anger and hurt. My son can hear me, respond to me so, what? Does he hate me?
Cicada is a drama of the quotidian, such as we almost never see from American writers. (At its best, it put me in mind of the British maestro of the working class, Ken Loach.) In calling Cicada "adventurous," I mean to compliment Jacobs mostly for what she does not do. I waited in dread of The Explosion – a moment of violence or the revelation of a dark secret; perhaps, just as bad, a Lifetime-movie hug-cum-reconciliation – that blessedly never comes. Even the title metaphor is unstrained in its use. The play ends as it begins: a plain-spoken, poignant slice of hard life, its central mystery unresolved. Yet, still we feel that we’ve traveled somewhere important.
I can take issue with director Jacobs not pressing her unforced and persuasive actors harder to play beneath the surface of her lines, Specifically, I question the apparently intelligent and devoted Joann’s adamant refusal to even consider Ms. Miro’s suggestion that she get counseling for Cole (and for herself), and, really, with an entire scene in Cole’s classroom. Since Joann doesn’t contradict or evade what Ms. Miro said to her when she tells Ellen about the meeting (which would’ve been interesting) there’s probably no reason for us to see it. And the play would benefit in unity if it never left the living room.
Jacobs may or may not prove to be a major writer, but she’s a serious one already. Cicada is my favorite new work by a local playwright this year.
Boesman and Lena (American Theatre Project and Ashé Center, New Orleans)
Lately I have had reason to accuse myself of being an easy grader. So, it’s a special relief that American Theatre Project’s latest, Athol Fugard’s modern masterpiece Boesman and Lena offer some confirmation of mu scale. The work presents the same grace and confidence I found in ATP's recent Freedom Summer…all of it and then some.
This staging proves ATP artistic director Ed Bishop’s determination to burn off any mere “business,” make no moves that don’t serve the story, indulge no showoff-y “moments.” With only simple but appropriate costumes and set and two high-powered leads, Bishop tells the story of tense, exhausted bottom feeders who live off the literal garbage of the ruling class. They are always on the vagrant move until a walking-dead ‘kaffir’ appears to disrupt their balance of power by providing Lena the illusion of companionship…which is, under the awful circumstances, is as good as the real thing. This is powerful, darkly funny work, resonating well beyond the confines of its apartheid-era South African setting, as work by geniuses like Fugard are wont to do.
It specifically confirms my suspicion that India King is thrilling. She vaults beyond the success of her show-stopping performance as Fannie Lou Hamer in Summer (which was merely a long monologue, after all, grand as it was.) Now, she lays claim – alongside Amy Alvarez, Becca Chapman, Jennifer Pagan, and Liann Pattison – to the finest dramatic lead performance by an actress this year. Her Lena is believably tough yet subservient to the volatile Boesman, blunt but given to flights of poetry and, most important, alive in character every single moment. Here is what I call bone-deep acting.
The surprise is Kirk Bush as Boesman, whom I’ve always enjoyed but never been thrilled by. It must’ve been the roles, because he matches King beat by beat. Boesman’s anger at their lot in life has left him sullen and dangerous. This is yet another in a recent spate of local productions shot through with toxic machismo, and if I lauded Alex Wallace’s transformation in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I can do no less for the handsome and charming Bush here. He’s made himself feral, ugly, and magnetic.
I must be brief(er.) So, I’ll close by noting that I wish to hell Bishop would give more thought to the opening and closing moments of his shows – they are always weak – and that as the kaffir Outa what TJ Toups accomplishes, although it might appear otherwise, is not at all easy. Kudos to Toups for being so disciplined and effectively eerie in a thankless role.
The Other Mozart (New York City)
I can’t actually recommend that theater lovers arrive five minutes late to a house show especially when it starts on time, then locks its doors because the layout of the parlor doesn’t allow for late seating. However, you could do worse if the curtains aren’t tightly drawn on the porch and the show you’re peering in at is The Other Mozart.
Although I lacked the stamina to peeping-Tom my way to the conclusion, I saw (and heard: Sara Florence Fellini, who alternates in the title role with the playwright, Sylvia Milo, has the voice of a crystal bell) a good half-hour of it before I grew weary of crouching. There was something very Upstairs Downstairs right about furtively watching such a fey and stylish show through the window of a gorgeous manse.
Anyway. In case I don’t make it back as I hope to do – like I said, the plate is full – I can confirm that Milo’s script is a detailed, straightforward recounting of the life of Nannerl Mozart, Amadeus’ older sister, and an acclaimed musician in her own right before becoming lost to history. (There is, by now, a buckling shelf of forgotten-woman-genius solo shows, most of them having originated on the fringe circuit. An enterprising anthologist with patience for research could collect into a terrific volume.)
Milo and her collaborators, especially director Isaac Byrne, made two extremely smart decisions. The high style of the performance – all-white, period-elegant, the actress surrounded by a moat of sheet music and tulle – is inversely proportionate to the grounded trustworthiness of the just-the-facts-ma’am text. Secondly, before they dive into the inherent polemics of Nannerl’s overlooked life, and broaden the story to include the neglect of other female musicians of her day, they really lay on the charm. This is feminist theatre with girlish allure.
Oh! And Fellini is captivating. Beyond that, I just can’t say.
I can say that, outside of Fringe Fest, we rarely if ever see work like this. Perhaps by virtue of providing inspiration, that alone is giving back enough to the local theatre scene.
Renard Boissiere, Linzi Falk, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Dead Huey, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via
Michael Weber, B.A.
B. E. Mintz