The streets overfloweth with performance once again, as the New Orleans Fringe Festival is upon us. Once again NoDef's crack team is taking to the streets to review all the plays, musicals, dance performances and one-man capers we can muster. The first batch of reviews are out of the oven. Check back for more as the fest rolls on.
At this years Fringe Festival, the musical production, Gayland, which is directed by Joseph Furnari, gives the audience a glimpse of a world run by homosexuals, and it's not all rainbows as one would expect.
The six person cast of Gayland spins stereotypes on their head by showing a world where it is the “ungays” that are persecuted and ostracized. The performance opens with a fantastically liturgical number (“In Eden Fair Our Mother God”), showing the studied talent of composer Scott R. King and the harmonious possibilities of the cast. This evangelical opening poignantly sets the stage as the characters call upon Mother God and Jessi Christ to rid the world of those who are not gay—because after all, being ungay is an act against God. It is a disease that can be caught from a toilet seat. It is an abomination that can make a person physically ill. In other words, it's like Fox News on opposite day.
The sharp writing by Christopher St. John continues throughout Gayland, and it is equally met by the purposeful staging and costume changes in the performance. The play moves quickly from one number to the next as this six person cast creates scenes with their small props. Lori DeLeon, Lesley DeMartin, Ivan Griffin, David Kaplinsky, Brittany Scofield, and Nick Shackleford may only be six people, but they play around 30 characters, showing that a change in hair, costume, and attitude can be enough to transition the audience through a storyline. The setting is perfectly aligned with what one expects from the Fringe Festival—sparse with no frills.
Though the set may be thin, the voices that sing the 18 songs in this one-hour show are anything but. One of the vocal highlights was Ivan Griffin's solo “I'm a Real Man.” The song's bluesy sound and Griffin's powerful voice about what a “real man” is received the loudest applause as well as some hoots and hollers from the audience. On the flip side was the sweetly charming duet, “Viva la Difference,” sung by strong-voiced Brittany Scofield and David Kaplinsky. And, just as the performance began with a harmonious piece, it ends with “You've Always Been Different,” which just can't help but give you goosebumps as you hear the vocal range of the cast in its full capacity.
Although placed off to the side of the stage, the musical talents of Dilyara Shiderova (piano primo), April Mok (piano secondo), Doug Therrien (string bass), and Charles Kohlmeyer (percussion) echo throughout the Marigny Opera House and exhibit the various musical genres Gayland pulls from—everything from Broadway to styles with that devilish flatted fifth.
Together the cast, set-design, vocal direction, and purposefully bound writing of Gayland make this a performance that has the audience laughing at the ridiculous world created in the play and also waiting from them outside the doors of the Marigny Opera House. I was told that this play was going to be, “The must-see of Fringe Festival,” and upon seeing it on opening night, I have to agree.
Gayland is being performed at the Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand St.) on November 22 at 7 p.m., November 23 at 9 p.m., and November 24 at 11 p.m.
A MIND FULL OF DOPAMINE
Rory Ledbetter's one-man show, A Mind Full of Dopamine, details a few of his own life experiences, ranging from childhood trauma to late nights in casinos around Los Angeles. The piece runs at Church Alley Café, one of the Central City outposts of the Fringe Festival on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. The beautifully designed café functions well with a one man show, or perhaps a small music act. It is comfortable, cozy and lit with beautifully hanging nest-like swirls.
As the title suggests a bit of a thrill ride, Ledbetter relives for the audience a few high-energy moments in his life, while occasionally breaking to give scientific tidbits of the effects of dopamine on the mind and body. However, those expecting fast-paced debauchery from the start will have to wait until the end of the show, and even then, the stakes seem to be low. Comparisons to people who have lost everything while chasing this natural high remind the viewer that the stories in Ledbetter's piece are normal, normal to the point where one wonders the value of sharing such experiences. Whether being taunted by an older sibling, brief and awkward college romances, or the first experience of losing at gambling, these are experiences that everyone can identify with or at times even predict. And while the stories are entertaining, their inevitable connection with each other and the title seem complete only with the final lines of the show.
Several characters populate the piece and Ledbetter gives each of them a voice and action of their own, leading to a funny cross-section of the gambling world. Ledbetter also provides a comfortable stage presence, and there are a few distinct laughs throughout the night. At this particular performance, certain sounds from next door provided an obstacle that Ledbetter's voice easily overcame, aided by the help of his act-dividing harmonica quips. As is stated in the program, a knowledge of Star Wars allows for a lot more of the jokes to hit home.
One might imagine that a show about dopamine may relate pure thrill, exhilaration. While it is easy to believe that Ledbetter felt this chemical swirl through his brain at several times throughout his life, the show itself needs to hit a little harder for the audience to empathize. What one does feel, however, is Ledbetter's need to perform the show. The end justifies the storytelling experience in a way that lets one feel Ledbetter's openness and honesty and self-affirmation.
Catch the thrill ride about gambling and jumping off cars Friday and Sunday at Church Alley Cafe (1228 Oretha Castle Haley) at 7pm.
BUTCHER HOLLER HERE WE COME
There were about twenty audience members scattered throughout the Mudlark, seated on chairs of varying size, drinking or looking pleased with themselves, when suddenly the lights fell and a voice began to twang a story out of the darkness. This is how Aztec Economy’s Butcher Holler Here We Come greets its audience. With the only available lighting provided by the headlamps worn by its actors, Butcher Holler Here We Come is largely a drama of shadows and sound.
Written by Casey Wimpee and directed by Leah Bonvissuto, Butcher Holler Here We Come follows five men who survive a coal mine collapse in West Virginia in 1973. The miners’ survival and ensuing descent into madness unfolds like a Theatre of the Absurd rendition of something from the work of Breece D’J Pancake. The actors move throughout the theatre and rarely use the stage – their freedom of movement contrasts with the claustrophobic area the miners inhabit, which gives the audience a sense of intimate familiarity with the doom, gloom, and musk that surrounds them.
The trauma is brought to life by fine work from the actors Adam Belvo (K-Bus), Isaac Byrne (Hiccup), Michael Mason (Muskie), Adam Laten Willson (Leander), and Cole Wimpee (Jet). Each has the bearing of the authentically damned, whether they’re hoarding the last of the Jell-O rations, snorting ketamine off the blade of a knife, or desperately trying to keep a grip on a situation far beyond their control. (One beautiful moment features an a capella rendition of “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”) Dust seems to ride on the words spoken by each man, floating in the narrow white light of his despair, which might be a brilliant costuming decision or merely a regular environmental condition of the Mudlark.
Sporadic darkness envelops actors and audience, forcing both parties to confront certain realities. How did we get here and where are we going with this? The answer may be in the hellish glow that follows the darkness.
Butcher Holler Here We Come has six more shows at the Mudlark Theatre (1200 Port Street) during the New Orleans Fringe Festival. Please click here for showtimes.
CITY OF BONES
Opening night of New Orleans Fringe Festival included a performance of City of Bones by the Nashua Theater Guild. Director William McGregor brought the award winning show to New Orleans following a highly successful season in New Hampshire. The interdisciplinary one-man show illustrated the life experiences of African American men through music, dance, and spoken word performances. In addition, images projected on a screen at the rear of the stage enhanced the presentation.
Actor Chris Leon transitioned seamlessly through the different voices in the play. Throwing off the hunched posture of the elderly mystic, he became in turn a hood, sneering, “God looks after fools and drunks.” Having related the tale of a murder committed to ease wounded pride, Leon transitioned into the role of a middle-aged drinker/historian at a bar. Other characters included a slave, a free man of color, a musician, a ladies man, and a Black Nationalist.
Much of the performance’s strengths derived from the integral use of music and movement. Leon is a powerful dancer and has an uncanny ability to shift his body physically to embody the different roles required of him during the performance. Perhaps the most powerful portion of the show was his dance to Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” Highlighted by gritty black and white photos on the screen behind him, Leon made use of the entire stage while being roped to one of the boxes that served as stage dressing.
City of Bones is a visceral performance piece that is well suited for its staging this weekend at the Mardi Gras Zone warehouse. It is thought provoking and well worth the time to see it.
The show will be performed Friday at 9:00 p.m., Saturday at 11:00 p.m., and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at the Mardi Gras Zone warehouse (Architect Street).
DICK IN YA MOUTH
Luckily, the title of Dick in Ya Mouth does not paint an accurate picture of the plot, which revolves around a sex-themed radio show called “No Filter.” The show involves a very convincing female DJ fielding “dick tales” from the audience as well as callers, who are shown in a living room setting near the DJ booth.
While the description compares the play to a “cross between The Vagina Monologues and Howard Stern’s Radio Show,” the actual performance errs decidedly more towards the latter. There is no real substance, and none of the “dick tales” address anything other than bad sex, penis insecurity, or elderly sex (which they seem to think is particularly hilarious). Eve Ensler would not approve.
While Dick does not go too deep, it still offers some good laughs (who hasn’t said that). Two “audience volunteers” are in on the action, one hetero woman and another hetero man, and they both deliver solid monologues about their own bizarre romantic endeavors.
Note: everyone is hetero. There is a vague mention at one point of the radio show being “LGBT friendly,” but it would have been nice to get a lesser told dick tale from someone who was not straight and cis gender.
The sharp-tongued female DJ makes the performance, especially when she is emasculating a caller who laments his “modest yet adequate” penis. The play wraps up with some legitimate audience participation, when the pretentious, British author of the play’s fictional book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, but Aren’t They Both Planets? comes out to discuss pressing relationship matters such as sex positions, boxers vs. briefs, chocolates, and hamburgers.
While the Fringe description is misleading, playgoers seeking a lighthearted, short, comedic experience should definitely check out Dick in Ya Mouth.
Dick in Ya Mouth is showing again at the Shadowbox Theatre (2400 St. Claude) on Friday, 11/22 at 7 p.m., Saturday 11/23 at 9 p.m., and Sunday 11/24 at 11 p.m.
The Red House, a BYOV located on 2820-26 St. Claude Ave., is a cluttered, whimsical space with a lingering scent of wet paint and walls decorated by murals, colored lights and scrawled poetry. In one corner of the disorder, a lone chair stood, surrounded by three full bottles of Negra Modelo and an eclectic group of chairs for Fringe spectators. Upon arriving for the one-man production of Drunk Lion, audiences were greeted by a man who handed out programs and offered cold PBRs for consumption.
“Help yourself,” he said. “It’s part of the show.”
Though not immediately apparent, this man making last minute arrangements and running the box office was Chris Davis, the unaccompanied writer and player in Drunk Lion, a 75-minute performance piece that intentionally blurred the lines between fantasy and reality; soliloquy and two-way conversation.
When Davis began his monologue without introduction or lighting cue, the audiences was caught off guard, some continuing their pre-show conversations as he talked. This set the paradoxical mood that continued throughout the entire performance. With no distinction between audience and stage, Davis spoke as though having a casual (drunken) conversation with Fringe-goers, which could at times be relaxing and slightly unsettling. Davis spoke directly to those seated with his own voice, jumping in and out of Spanish to depict various characters, but never betraying his understated on-stage persona. Here were experiences he actually had when living in Chiapas, Mexico—focusing mainly on an evening he spent conversing with a Mexican lion in a cantina. A predatory, talking, larger-than-life (drunken) lion.
Blending surrealism with vague reality and presenting it in an effortless stream-of-consciousness style that genuinely feels as though he is retelling the story off the top of his head, Davis wholeheartedly delves into themes ranging from love, loneliness, and mortality. Equally humorous as it is tragic, poignant as it is absurd, the fantasy of Drunk Lion offers audiences an opportunity to enter into Chris Davis’ psyche without ever having to leave their seats.
Drunk Lion plays at The Red House (BYOV) on Nov. 21 and 22 at 10 p.m. and Nov. 23 at 4 p.m., and 12 Midnight
LIKE ME MORE LIKE ME
Amid the sound of rain, two men with costume changes awaiting them stand on opposite sides. There are two chairs and some electronics on the stage. A spotlight shines, and the performance of Like Me More Like Me begins.
With only the aforementioned elements, Like Me More Like Me carries on for one hour as the two performers, Thomas Hauert and Scotty Heron, use their bodies and their sounds to create a world that is full of questions.
The performance begins with Hauert and Heron dancing around and next to one another, but there is a disconnect that can be seen and felt. Nothing about their two bodies look like they go together. The jagged movements as the men run and dance around the stage boast characteristics of improv dancing, but they also elicit the feeling that these two bodies are trying to move as one and just can't do it.
Those fluidly uneven movements cease when one of the performers pulls some cords and an amp to the front of the stage. Up until this point, the performance has been predominantly about movement, but now it turns toward stationary performance where the character must grapple with a nonworking microphone, a cable jack that won't cooperate and serpentine cords that wrap around his red, high-heel-clad feet. Not letting the audience rest, the performers continue to fight with these electronics, showing their absolute dedication to repetition and their willingness to ignore the conventions of what one “should” do when on stage.
This rebellious nature continues throughout Like Me More Like Me as the men change from typically male to female costumes and back again. Hauert and Heron challenge the audience to figure out what is real, performed, or actual with twists, such as the music being played on the small stereo on stage seamlessly transitioning onto the sound system of the Marigny Opera House, which is the perfect backdrop for this performance.
The beige curtain and single spotlight of the Marigny Opera House create silhouettes of both Hauert and Heron, which many times stole my attention away from the physical forms of the dancers themselves. There are no other set elements beyond the two chairs and the costume changes done on-stage, but Hauert and Heron are able to captivate the audience, especially when one of the characters wails and cries as he flings himself on and off a chair. You can't help but think that you are seeing humans in the raw, and that rawness brings about struggle and collisions of contradictions.
One of the most pivotal scenes comes when Hauert and Heron entangle their bodies as they dress one another. The way their bodies intertwine and precariously balance exhibits the dedication and focus this performance requires. Like Me More Like Me is not about a specific narrative; rather it asks the audience to question and acknowledge aesthetics, and it succeeds in this endeavor. After the performance the audience all lingered, talking about the various “scenes”–describing them and talking about what they could have possibly represented.
By challenging the binary oppositions that formulate many peoples' understandings of the world, Hauert and Herron create a visual philosophy that doesn't have answers, but doesn't pretend that it wants to either.
Like Me More Like Me is being performed at the Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand St.) on November 22 at 9 p.m., November 23 at 11 p.m., and November 24 at 5 p.m.
CHRISTMAS IN BAKERSFIELD
Hollywood-based actor Les Kurkendaal relates an absolutely unforgettable Christmas experience when he meets his boyfriend's family for the first time. While that may sound like a feel-good sitcom episode, it pointedly and welcomely refuses being a family drama. Kurkendaal's performance hilariously dabbles into the psyche of right-wing conservatism in the face of an openly gay black man.
For those who don't know, Kurkendaal quickly informs his audience that Bakersfield is the "armpit of California" as well as the state's center of the Klu Klux Klan activity. While the show deals with two politically charged topics — homosexuality and couples of different ethnicity — Kurkendaal avoids easy jokes yet wonderfully manages to tell you what you already know: that in the 21st Century, the bigotry and shelteredness of people in this country is frankly remarkable. The people that populate the play are fully fleshed out and remarkable in their believability, as hard to deal with as they must have been.
As a performer, Kurkendaal has a distinct sense of his audience, shifting his script a little as he sees what works. People at this particular performance picked up on some of the rhythms and happily echoed the actor's words as he described what he repeatedly made a point to avoid in his life: family drama. Before that, we hear of life in Hollywood before a potentially ill-fated trip to the central valley of the sunshine state. Vocally, Kurkendaal fills the space with crisp projections. Sometimes, his movement around the stage seemed a bit willy nilly, or even nervous except for a few choice seated moments. But in the end, his pacing added to his authenticity, as the audience has no doubt he is relating an actual experience.
Kurkendaal has a good eye for social dynamics, comedically nailing expectations people form in any relationship, whether lovers or strangers. This understanding translates well toward the audience as he recalls some of the things told to him by such characters as Junior, the communist-fearing meathead or Big Jeff, the power-hungry patriarch. Make no mistake, Kurkendaal, does play with race and sexuality, ranging from finding a bond with the mother of the family over Oprah or calling his own dreadlocks worms to appease a child. We hear how he is told Black Jokes to his face, and we feel his surprise and his rage and his oft-repeated desire to laugh.
The show runs at Byrdie's on St. Claude Avenue. The venue, while normally a gallery space and coffee shop, provides a central location for Fringe Festival and succeeds in transforming into a wonderful performance space for a one man show. The venue also provides a full bar and delicious homemade soups and bread, which are well worth checking out.
See Christmas in Bakersfield every day through Sunday at Byrdie's Cafe (2422 St. Claude Ave.) at 9pm.
This morning, I threw away my Dr. Pepper bottle as I walked down the street, and I felt pretty proud of myself. As most New Orleanians are well aware, just getting your trash into the can is cause for minor celebration. However, having watched Sacred Waste, the interactive experience presented by The Booyah Performing Arts Collective at this year’s Fringe Festival, I feel nothing but shame.
Director Bonny McDonald spearheads a presentation that makes great use of the sights and sounds of the plastic that surrounds us on a daily basis. Costumes are comprised of plastic bags, bottle caps, and plastic cutlery. The set dressing is minimal: a tree comprised of plastic shopping bags and plastic tubing is the only permanent set piece throughout the show.
The ten brief sections of Sacred Waste outline modern society’s love/hate relationship with plastic. At the outset, audience members are introduced to the Goddess Dasani, and the way that plastics broke the “wet and endless cycle” of creation and breakdown of products prior to its creation. A highlight was section 5, The Polymeric Runes. During rhythmic chanting, the chemical compositions of the three most prevalent plastics are revealed.
The entire production continues firmly tongue in cheek through the remaining sections of the production, encouraging audience participation at every turn. Props are provided under each audience member’s seat for the different portions of the show. Dual drummers keep the beat throughout the production, and members of the cast circulate throughout the crowd. The show is being billed as kid friendly, and it is an accurate label. The presentation may seem reductive and a bit patronizing to adults. For children, however, the story, chanting, and costumes could be an invitation to thinking about recycling in a completely new way.
Sacred Waste, an immersive experience, plays at the Mardi Gras Zone Friday at 7 p.m. Saturday at 9 p.m., and Sunday at 5 p.m.