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Settling the Stage

NOLA Project’s ‘Oregon Trail: The Play,’ Reviewed

While there may be a generational cutoff for younger audience members, the sorrow that accompanies the phrase "You have died of dysentary" remains timeless.


On Thursday, the NOLA Project opened Oregon Trail: The Play at the Allways Lounge and Theater.  An irreverent and rambunctious production, the script pokes fun at racism, sexism, and retrospectively hilarious notions of Manifest Destiny.  In the words of writer/director AJ Allegra, Oregon Trail: The Play forms the "complete opposite" of the company's most recent play, A Truckload of Ink, a character-driven drama questioning of media practices.


Before the play starts, viewers are encouraged to refresh their memories of the addictive game by sitting down at one of the computers open to the game in the lobby (unfortunately, there is no floppy disk available after Fort Laramie).  Playing the old version of the game was a welcome blast from the past and helped set the fun atmosphere of the evening.


That sentiment continues as audience members are brought into the theatre and given the opportunity to go on set for a picture while holding any of a number of pre-made signs, including "You Only Die of Dysentary Once" and its counterpart "#YODODO."  After fun, games, and another drink, NOLA Project arms its viewers with Nerf guns, with a pointed lack of instruction: "You'll know when to use them."  The set consisted of a cartoon backdrop of a general store and a covered wagon center stage.  Throughout the performance there were good uses of space--creating rivers to ford, a comical illusion of travel, and actors coming through the audience.


In terms of narrative, the play relates the tale of a family of five as they quickly move west and even more quickly lose family members. If one plays the video game before the show, he will realize how closely Allegra made script follow -- a nice detail.  Within the show, significant amounts of the text rest with the general store keeper, Matt (Keith Claverie).  Fortunately for the production, Claverie's goof-spoof Western voice and timing delivers hilariously.  Usually stuck behind his counter, Claverie's final departure contains a little surprise for some of his more smitten fans.


Everyone else in the play consists of a comedically overblown archetype: Maw 'n Paw, the town drunk, a Western swindler and some creep mountain man who likes to eat children.  A special thumbs up for James Bartelle, who brought to life the character of Crazy Fingers: a (maybe?) half-man, half coyote gourmand with a propensity toward insanity and (understandable) fear of man-eating beavers.


The play entertains its audience with its fast pace and quips throughout.  Some of the humor comes at the expense of women in a way that mocks 19th-century sexism.  Those sensitive to the most basic of false Indian stereotypes should keep their distance.   Another through-line of the piece revolves around Poop Jokes, a fact that the script seems to acknowledge and at times embrace. This may be to a fault. With such talented performers, such cheap jokes don't touch performance levels or the more crafted ups and downs of the text.


That being said, the play is about the Oregon Trail video game, where, as we've said, dysentary was quite common.  And as for the implementation of the Nerf guns, those who actually played the game will have a slight one-up on those who did not.  Overall attending the play was a fun, upbeat experience.


The Oregon Trail plays Thurs.-Sun. through Nov. 24 at Allways Lounge and Theatre (2240 St. Claude Ave.). For all performances, the journey from Independence begins at 8 p.m. Ticket info is available at the NOLA Project website.




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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


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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