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Tennessee’s First Flower Blooms at the Allways Lounge Theater March 23, 2013

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Odd Words, Review, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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While the smart set at the the Tennessee Williams Festival is settling into watch the third part of John Biguenet’s Katrina Trilogy, Mold in a small bar room/theater Off-Off-Royal Street Tennessee Williams’ first produced play–A Battle of Angels–is given a compelling production at the Allways Lounge Theater. The Allways has become the Southern Rep of the St. Claude and Bywater set, and director Glenn Meche’s production keeps up the high standards the theater has set for its small space. The tale which most of the world knows from its much re-written version as Orpheus Descending and the film The Fugitive Kind is still riveting theater in the Circle Repertory revival version presented by the Allways.

From the moment the excellent Nicole Gruter as Beulah Cartwright and Lillian Claire Dodenhoff as Dolly Bland burst gossiping into the mercantile store the audience is swept back in time and up to the Mississippi Delta. A more perfect pair of haughty southern matrons could hardly be wished for. As soon as Diana Shortez sweeps into the room as the flawed and fallen Cassandra Whiteside the hammer is cocked and ready for the volley of familiar Williams themes of sex, death and redemption to follow. Shortez, with her commanding physicality and chameleon abilities is perfectly cast as the the loose-moralled scapegoat and by the last act the play’s one-woman chorus.

At the end of the first act one wishes Eli Grove as snake-skinned Val Xavier had some of the animal magnetism of Shortez, but he brings his best duck-tailed Cool Hand Luke to the table and as the complexities of his character are revealed through the remainder of the play he wins the viewer over with a brooding Kerouacian charm. The strong cast of women delivers the reflection of the character’s reptilian charm in their own performances. He is convincing as the (one part Tennessee) thoughtful drifter with a head full of ideas running from a troubled past. The delight of the night is Veronica Russell as Myra Torrance. Her slow transformation from a bitter shopkeeper with a loveless marriage and a dying husband as reptilian as Xavier’s jacket into the lovelorn victim of Xavier’s charm is at the center of the plot and she carries the spotlight with a quiet but powerful performance. Years seem to melt from her face as she moves backwards in time from pinch-faced shopkeeper to the charmingly coquettish victim of Xavier’s promise of escape.

Rebecca Myers as the deeply religious Vee Talbot wears the character’s convictions well and does a fine job of carrying the difficult task of tying together the almost Old Testament bombastic imagery–from Xavier’s snakeskin jacket to the frightening cane-of-God Doug Mundy wields mostly off-stage–in this tale of temptation and fall set at Easter Week with the wild Whiteside making whoopee up at the town’s Golgotha. The text is freighted with symbolism almost past the Plimsoll mark but Myers and the rest of the supporting cast manage to keep the bowl of apples off the table and give Russell and Grove the space to play out their doomed romance. There is not a weak performance in the ensemble which also includes Barry Bradford as a genuinely threatening Sheriff Talbott and Patrica Raw and Rebecca Rae as the comic spinster sisters. Director Glenn Meche has shaped a fine cast into a compelling night of drama.

The Allways’ small proscenium theater is turned sideways as it was for last year’s The Future is a Fancy Land Place and while you might find yourself rubbing your neck at the end of the night, it gives the actors room to move and the feeling the audience is in a much larger space without the loss of intimacy. While far from the center of the Tennessee Williams weekend at the The Hotel Monteleone, festival goers would do well to find their way down to St. Claude Avenue and the rest of us have until April 6 to see the root of Tennessee’s genius in its first blossom.

O-o-o-oh, Romeo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o… December 3, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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If you were thinking of going to see the well acted and thoughtfully staged The NOLA Project production of Romeo and Juliet and NOMA: don’t. The acoustics and sight lines are horrible in the foyer of NOMA and render a great part of the dialogue, including the balcony scene, unintelligible to the audience on stage right. Only a handful of the actors–A.J. Allegro as Mercutio, Natalie Boyd as the Nurse, James Yeargain as Friar John and experienced Shakespeareans Martin Covert and Jim Wright as Montague and Capulet, managed to modulate their voices to minimize the echoes and so be intelligible and demonstrate their talent. Even the best of the actors sometimes were placed in the space so that one despairs of understanding them. Good use was made of the four entrances and stairway to generate an energetic tension in the scenes of conflict between the young men of the two families, but the scenes of Juliet on the staircase and balcony, while dramatically staged, placed her dead in the center of the echo chamber. Kristin Witterschein was a fresh and charming Juliet What can be seen from an obstructed view and what could be understood was well done, but I’m judging much of her performance from tone of voice and a few brief glimpses, as if I were watching a foreign film behind a tall man in a tall hat. I would love to see this company perform this in another place.

If you already have your tickets, be sure to arrive by 6:00 for the 7:30 curtain and run don’t walk to a seat in front stage left, where I think you would at least be able to understand the balcony scene and have unobstructed sight lines. Or else be sure to read the play before you come so you can at least play it in part in your own head. If you insist on going, buy an obstructed sight line ticket and save some money because there was no effort made to actually segregate the seating, and our full price tickets placed us squarely between two pillars and we arrived at 6:30.

Everything in Life Dreams August 4, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in Poetry, quotes, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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MARELA (to Conchita): No, everything in life dreams. A bicycle dreams of becoming a boy, an umbrella dreams of becoming the rain, a pearl dreams of becoming a woman, and a chair dreams of becoming a gazelle and running back to the forest.
— Nilo Cruz, from Anna in the Tropics

Do you feel the dreams around you? The coffee longs for Columbia, your cigarette remembers Virginia, the walls recall the gypsum earth from which they came. That is a beautiful line from the play but I believe what is around you does not seek to escape or pull you into reverie but to push you out the door. All these mingled dreams of scattered places are like the forecast of the storm around the corner. Somewhere among the brightly colored and diverging lines is the unforeseeable track, the true path that leads to your own dreams. You may never reach the end but everything around you calls you to follow, past the boy on his bicycle, the tan woman in the black dress, her pearlescent neck, through the pouring rain and into the forest. Something rustles in the leaves then bounds away. You can see the faint track worn in the grass. You leave the path and follow it.

Have A Banana April 25, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, The Odd, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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Hell, have two. You’re going to be here a while. Or have been here a while. Perhaps a very long while. It’s hard to tell.

Sex on a Hot Tin Roof March 25, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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“I was thinking about what might entice the crowd in on a beautiful day in the Quarter and I thought: put sex in the title,” moderator Robert Bray explained, and the title William’s Sexual Politics is partly why I find myself at the Tennessee Williams Research Center.

How do you resist a title like that, suggesting Stella on the staircase, Maggie astraddle a conquered Brick?

I had started out in a room full of biographers talking about presidents, dutifully scribbling in my notebook until I came to the end of a line, stopped, and asked: what am I doing here? I scoured the program until I found the panel I had noticed earlier, the one with the come hither description.

This was the first time in several festivals attended I set foot in the Tennessee Williams Research Center, which is usually filled with academics and their acolytes, the people who own every word every written by or about Williams. In dog-eared hardback. They sit through days of panel discussions that start out with a session for the reading of abstracts. If two hours listening to academics reading abstracts isn’t enough to keep you away you should seriously step back from your life and reconsider.

The room at the Historic New Orleans Collection where the master classes are held is the porcelain blue tea room for the well dressed lady’s book club sort who, with their walkers, fill the place with just a scattering of writers hunched in the front and another set in the very back where they stumbled in late. The Research Center is just as formal a space but instead of the pearls and porcelain chatter of the Collection this room is hushed as a temple, the last panelists renewing their long-standing acquaintance with the next set. The walls are a barely discernible light olive, the lighting largely directed at the portraits of vague historic figures in the front (is that Governor Claiborne?) and modern canvases of New Orleans in the back: a second line, a shotgun street, a scene out of Katrina. I take a seat under one of the few spotlights in the ceiling to I can take notes.

Moderator Bray starts out with William’s cover article in Time magazine in 1961 which called him a “kind of peddler of sex…intent on shock” and went on to catalogue play-by-play his written sins: rape, homosexuality, nymphomania, alcoholism, drug addiction, castration, masturbation, cannibalism. It concluded, Bray said, but calling him the world’s greatest living playwright.

David Savran, co-editor of the Journal of American Drama and Theater and Distinguished Professor of Theater at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, offered a quick explanation: “In historical terms, the period from 1946 until the early sixties was the most conservative period in American history, a time when McCarthy linked Communism and homosexuality, and here homosexuality was central to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.j Williams was making the theater going public confront issues they didn’t want to confront but where incredibly curious about.

Will Brantley of Middle Tennessee University quickly agreed. In plays like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth Williams built a play around the penis, took a word that couldn’t be said in his era and “made it the center of his drama [but] the controversial was presented as symbolic and metaphorical so it stays with us.” Savran also noted the intense homophobic reaction to Williams in criticism through the author’s career.

Actress and filmmaker Jodie Markell, the one woman on the panel disagreed, with categorizing Williams as sexually political. “I think of Tennessee Williams as a poet, not political but writing from the heart about what makes people want to connect, what makes them want to desire each other. He speaks to so many people about human vulnerability. It was so universal..how brave it was to explore these territories without being perverse and not judgmental of his characters.”

Bray asked about depictions of Blance as a nymphomaniac, and Savran again asserted this was w symptomatic of a time when “any woman of strong desires was called a nymphomaniac.” Markell says was drawn to Williams as an actress and now as a director of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond because “I was interested in the women in Williams who were too sexual, too bright, too too too…women who project their desires onto idealized and flawed men.”

Ah, finally the audience were (OK, I was) being released from prurient curiosity and into the meat and bone of what the Research Center programs are about, the reason we were all here: peering deep into Williams and finding ourselves.

Bray paraphrased Night of the Iguana: “nothings disgusts me except intentional cruelty”. Savran chimed in immediately, “Williams’ theater is a theater without villains [but one] of connections, not villains but antagonists of desire. In so many of his plays there the meeting and the parting, ” which Savran said is found in Chekov as well. Markell said Williams was interested in sexual alienation. “He enjoyed the play of how opposites attract.”

Bray returned to sexual politics, suggesting that characters in Williams approach sex with a manipulative praticallity, citing Maggie and Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie stuffing her daughter’s bra. He suggested Williams women were sometimes sexual predators. Markell agreed with the practical sexuality of William’s women and said that is what her film is about, but disagreed with the idea of the women as sexual predators.

The panel also considered the differences in endings between Williams’ plays and the film versions. “He was up against the Production Code Administration, which not only censored but encouraged happy endings.” One panelist (my notes get blurry here) suggested . “Williams wanted people to supply their own ending, to leave the end ambiguous,” and Savran agreed. “Modern drama is about asking not answering questions. It doesn’t tell us how we should think or feel.”

An Odd Sense of Color March 24, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, Louisiana, New Orleans, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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OK, I just have to say it: it was Odd that three of the four panelists on the Tennessee Williams Festival panel New Orleans Free People of Color were white. The garrulous playwright John Guare tried to steal the show and not in a good way, and managed to annoy mystery writer Barbara Hambly when she disagreed with him but wouldn’t stop talking long enough to let her say her piece. Guare put his hand on the back of her chair at some point and it was funny to see Hambly leaning away from him to the point of tipping over.

Guare is the author of a successful Broadway play A Free Man of Color, Hanbly has penned a dozen mysteries featuring the Creole private detective Benjamin January, and the panel was rounded out by Daniel Sharfstein, author of The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America and Gregory Osborne, a child of the Creole diaspora to Los Angeles in the post-World War II period and an expert on the subject who manages the archives at the New Orleans public library.

Sharfstein and Osborne thankfully stole the show away from Guare. Sharfstein’s book drew out of a a stint of volunteer work in South Africa where he met a Black woman who had been registered as Colored (of mixed race) by a census taken who was a friend of the woman’s father. He recounted a fascinating tale of a couple prosecuted f under South Carolina’s miscegenation laws, a charge from which they were exonerated after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that it was impossible to determine if the woman’s grandfather had himself been pure Black, which would have made her an octaroon and invalidated the marriage.

Hanbly said she switched from writing science fiction to mysteries because “I wanted to write a mystern novel about a free man of color since I was in high school [and] a mystery is the best way to investigate a society because the character has a reason to be explaining” his milieu in the course of his work. Her central character is about viewing the state of antebellum Blacks and the through the lens of color. When she spoke of the history of the gens de colour it was clear she has done her research over decades of writing about her character.

Osborne, who worked closely with historian of New Orleans Creoles Gwendolyn Hall, shared the details of his own life growing up in a Creole family in which his grandmother still spoke Creole French with her cousins and a thumbnail history of the free people of color in Louisiana. Growing up “I knew I had deep roots here and my father would call himself Creole but I didn’t know what that meant,” he explained.

He is writing a book looking at several hundred interracial relationships, mostly in New Orleans and dating back as far as the uprising in San Domingue (Haiti). In the eighteen and early nineteenth century a white man could leave his inheritance to his Creole family if he had no friends or other family in Europe or New Orleans, but as the antebellum American authorities began to crack down and categorize all persons they declared legally Black extensive searches were made for relatives to deny these families their inheritance.

Guare began his play–a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize–after his friend the African-American director George Wolf asked him to write a play about race. “Why me, an old white guy?” he asked, but never explained Wolf’s answer. Wolf wanted a play about the history of race in Louisiana and do it as a Restoration comedy, sexually charged comedies of manners with their collision of subjects and elaborate costumes explains why the show was a Broadway hit with a long run. The only criticism he heard was of his historically accurate depiction of a Black man opening slaves. True to a restoration comedy, his protagonist has a hard time keeping him pants zipped in the present of both white and women of color, which explains why a serious subject would manage a long Broadway run.

The panel managed a good thumbnail sketch of the history of free people of color, mostly through the contributions from Osborne and Hambly, with Sharfstein filling in the details of race and miscegenation from the Revolutionary War through the start of Jim Crow. And it is hard not to want to see the mounting of Guare’s play at Louisiana State University in the fall, if only to see how such a serious subject plays as a comedy of manners.

It’s Like Gone With The Wind on Mescaline March 24, 2012

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“Its like Gone with the Wind on mescaline.”
— Character John Kelso in the film adaptation of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

I was going to write a short review of last night’s Literary Late Night: Lafcadio Hearn but frankly it was one of those events where you had to be there. That and I left my program on the bar at Cafe Istanbul. Fortunately there is an online copy of the poster and cover, which gives me the names of all the readers and actors to go with my beer-stained notes.

Things started a bit flat with Chris Lane’s initial reading. It’s hard to imagine an MC for Fleur de Tease being too low key but that was just the slow climb up the first hill of the roller coaster. C.W. Cannon and Andrew Vaugt (the latter of Cripple Creek Theater) brought their best game and had the audience in stitches with Hearn’s satirical pieces, especially Vaught’s rendition of the calls of street vendors chronicled by Hearn. Cannon’s delivery of the dryly hilarious “A Visit to New Orleans” by the devil was archly perfect and would have had Mark Twain standing to applaud. Once the players had the audience in their hands the show just got better and better.

I thought at first that spoken word artists Chuck Perkins and Kataalyst Alcindor were too understated in their reading, but in fairness I am used to them in a spoken word/slam environment which calls for a much difference sort of performance. I am still undecided if Kataalyst should have brought his angry to the piece The Indigent Dead, but that may just be my expectation of what he would do with his own work. Reading Hearn’s account of 310 murders in New Orleans with only five persons hung worked in an understated delivery, especially for a New Orleans audience, and as delivered was more in character of a 19th century author than a full on slam performance. And then Perkins brought on the Hip-ocracy belly dancers for his reading of “The Dawn of Carnival” our own private carnival was well underway

Ratty Scurvics was Ratty Scurvics and once again proved that an essential element of stage presence is an animal magnetism that crackles around him like a vast static charge. He was in good voice singing behind the curtain for Trixie Minx’ performance as a clown at a crab boil after Scruvics read “Why Crabs are Boiled Alive”, and Minx’ performance was a fantastic mix of slapstick and burlesque moves. When Madame Mystere of Fleur de Tease came out on her belly riding a dolly and dressed in an alligator mask and tail and not much else for a reading of Hearn’s “The Alligators” you knew you were at a literary event that could only happen in New Orleans.

Yes the festival is supposed to be all about Tennessee but the People Say Project put on a show at Cafe Istanbul with enough tragedy, comedy and sex I am certain Williams would approve.

Odd Words: A Weekend with Tennessee Williams March 22, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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Here are my weekend picks for the TW Fest. For the complete list, visit the Festival schedule online.

This is supposed to be the weekend listings for the Festival, but I’m going to start out with the last event of Friday Night because this just sounds too good to miss.

Friday

& Literary Late Night: Lafcadio Hearn Think you know New Orleans? Explore the city of yore through a variety show that brings to life the works of Lafcadio Hearn, who in the late 1800s gave New Orleans its provocative reputation for Voodoo mystery, exotic cuisine, and a fecund underbelly.

In this choreographed evening of readings, music, and dance, the People Say Project present artists from the burgeoning Bywater/Marigny theater and performance scene in the heart of the St. Claude arts district. Experience the city’s resilient literary culture while looking back at a figure who left an indelible mark on the world’s image of New Orleans.

& Also on Friday and omitted in the earlier listing (for shame): A Reading from the Poetry and Fiction Contests with Judges Amy Hempel and Julie Kane Why not kick-off the weekend with something new? As part of our organization’s mission to encourage and support new talent, the Festival turns an eye to the next voices in American letters with a reading from our 2012 Fiction and Poetry Contest winners. Hundreds of entries poured into our offices from around the world from writers who have yet to publish a book in their genre.

& Tennessee Williams, Gerontologist? Almost all of his life Williams expressed anxiety over growing old and the ravaging effects of time, and towards the end of his life he became virtually obsessed with aging. Come join us for a discussion to discover how the author depicts the superannuated years in both the comic and tragic veins. 10 a.m. at the Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St.

No doubt this will be a panel on Big Daddy, Violet and other elderly characters, but it puts me in mind of the annual panel I think of as I Knew Tennessee, and the dwindling pole of panelists. Seeing Edward Albee last year was fantastic, but I can’t help but think it will soon be reduced to children he once patted on the head walking down the street.

& The Right to Write: Blacklisting and Its Repercussions The way things are going in this country lately, you probably want to hear how the blacklist ruined dozens of careers during its heyday from the late 1940s until the early 1960s. Panelists will put blacklisting in a historic context, discuss the impact on its victims, and identify some of its lingering effects. Panelists: Michael Bernstein, Lou Dubose, and Victor Navasky Moderator: John Pope. Queen Anne Ballroom of the Monteleone Hotel.

& Intimate and Confidential: Detailing a Moment in History When dealing with history, sometimes it’s more interesting to think small. This can be especially true when dealing with the larger-than-life figures of American Presidents. In this panel, four writers discuss how they used telling details to examine the histories writ large on our political landscape. 11:30 a.m. in the Queen Anne Ballroom.

& Nick Spitzer: Music in the Cultural Conversation Tulane University professor Nick Spitzer is the creator and voice of the public radio gem of a music program, American Routes. Now in its 14th year, American Routes reaches over half a million listeners on 267 outlets, largely because of Spitzer’s unique insights into the way music plays an integral role in our communal life. Whether he’s talking about the bluesmen of Mississippi, the brass bands of New Orleans, a rollicking Tejano band or a worshipping gospel group, Spitzer brings his terrific knowledge to bear on the special ways music both reflects and creates community identity and spirit. Sit back and listen to a man who’s truly a master of the music. 2:30 p.m., La Nouvelle Room, Monteleone.

& Spark and Fire: Poetry Readings Award-winning Louisiana poets Ava Leavell Haymon (Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Prize), Benjamin Morris (Chancellor’s Medal for Poetry/University of Cambridge), and Alison Pelegrin (Akron Poetry Prize) join Louisiana Poet Laureate Julie Kane (Donald Justice Poetry Prize) in a reading and discussion about where the poem originates and how it gets made by frictions as diverse as memory, social criticism, climate change, archetype, natural-cultural-political disaster, and fabulism. Panelist/Readers : Ava Leavell Haymon, Julie Kane, Benjamin Morris, and Alison Pelegrin. Moderator: Darrell Bourque. 2:30 p.m. Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant.

& Broomstick by John Biguenet This staged reading is directed by George Judy, Artistic Director of Swine Palace, and features Cristine McMurdo-Wallis. In Broomstick, a witch confesses all: her first love affair, how she discovered her powers, how she has used them. But more than that, it is a funny and frightening return to our childhoods, where we first wrestled with evil and justice. For the witch is a completely unsentimental moralist who knows everything about the human heart — having been both its victim and avenger all her long life — and who metes out inexorable justice, immune to our pleas for mercy, cackling at our excuses. In Broomstick, whiners wind up in casseroles. 6:00 p.m. in the La Nouvelle Ballroom of the Monteleone.

Sunday

& The final day kicks off with Staged Reading of the 2012 Festival One-Act Play Contest Winner
Communication Arts presents a reading of the winning entry in the 2012 Festival’s national One-Act Play Contest. The Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of New Orleans administers and coordinates the competition judging. The winning playwright receives a $1,500 cash prize.10 a.m. in the La Nouvelle Ballroom at the Monteleone.

& A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana Commissioned by the Bicentennial Commission, A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana, is a beautiful new book featuring the work of approximately 275 artists and photographers. Editors Michael Sartisky, Ph.D., president of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanties (LEH); and J. Richard Gruber, Ph.D., director emeritus of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art appear with art collector and philanthropist Roger Ogden and artist George Rodrigue to discuss this important work. Panelists: J. Richard Gruber, Roger Ogden, and George Rodrigue. Moderator: Michael Sartisky 10 a.m. in the Royal Ballroom of the Monteleone.

& An Autobiography About My Brother by Justin Kuritzkes Andrew’s brother is about to be executed for killing 25 people. On the eve of his brother’s execution, Andrew looks back on his own life, his brother’s, and the places where they intersect. Also, Andrew lies a lot. The University of New Orleans Department of Film, Theatre, and Communication Arts presents the premiere production of the winning play in the Festival’s 2011 One-Act Play Contest. 11 a.m. in the La Nouvelle Ballroom of the Monteleone.

& Walker Percy: A Documentary Film Pulitzer Prize winner Walker Percy has said his concerns as a writer were with “a theory of man, man as more than organism, more than consumer — man the wayfarer, man the pilgrim, man in transit, on a journey.” And with time-honored classics such as The Moviegoer, the physician turned writer’s wry observations about the meaning of life have long-delighted readers. Festival-goers have the chance to gain a new perspective on one of the South’s greatest literary voices with this special screening of a new documentary about the author.

Through archival film, excerpts of Percy’s work, and interviews with family, friends and scholars, Walker Percy: A Documentary, examines Percy’s own journey. Followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Win Riley, the film lets audiences become true “Moviegoers” as they learn from this formidable talent. 11:30 am at the Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St.

& Talking Tennessee with Piper Laurie, Bryan Batt, and Christian LeBlanc Join these talented actors as they recount their experiences with Tennessee Williams’ words and works. They’ll discuss our namesake’s imprint on American theater, as well as his inspiration to them as actors. A highlight of the discussion will be Ms. Laurie reminiscing about her time playing the role of Laura Wingfield in the acclaimed 1965 revival of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway opposite Maureen Stapleton’s Amanda, Pat Hingle’s Gentleman Caller, and George Grizzard’s Tom. Facilitated by Foster Hirsch. 1 p.m. in the Royal Ballroom at the Monteleone.

& Cityscapes: Writing the American City in Fact and Fiction Writing about the American city poses special problems and offers particular pleasures, whether you’re a novelist, memoirist, or historian. Of course, writers about New York have the pre- and post-9/11 dilemma, just as writers about New Orleans always write in the shadow of Katrina. Larry Powell discusses his brand new work of history about New Orleans, The Accidental City; Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts talks about writing Harlem is Nowhere; Laura Lippman describes the real city of Baltimore she depicts in her novels; and Susan Larson, who has been reading books about New Orleans for 25 years, moderates. Panelists: Laura Lippman, Larry Powell, and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Moderator: Susan Larson. 1 p.m. in the Queen Anne Ballroom at the Monteleone. You can pretty much count on seeing me there. I’m the old fart in a young man’s hat down in front.

& Laugh and the World Reads with You — Favorite Comic Novels
We read books for many reasons — for enlightenment, for instruction, and for consolation. But we also read to be amused, to be diverted and taken out of ourselves. Every reader’s known the joy of laughing out loud at a funny sentence, then sharing it with an inquiring onlooker. National Book Critics Circle president Jane Ciabattari leads writers in a discussion of favorite comic novels. Bring your favorites too! Panelists: Joshua Clark, Amy Dickinson, Jewelle Gomez and Ted O’Brien. Moderator: Jane Ciabattari. Just taking a wild flyer here, but I think Confederacy of Dunces may come up. Let me know as I’ll be at Streetcar and miss this one. 2:30 p.m. in the Queen Anne Ballroom of the Monteleone.

& And of course, with Festival closes out with Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest Contestants vie to rival Stanley Kowalski’s shout for “STELLAAAAA!!!” in the unforgettable scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Women contestants are welcome to try a little role reversal and yell for Stanley. Free and open to the public. Prizes will be awarded. 4:15 p.m. on the Pontalbla Building gallery on the Canal Street side.

Word. January 2, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in 504ever, Bloggers, music, New Orleans, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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Of the Lord (Lord David, that is) from The Truth and Other Lies. If you don’t read his blog, consider yourself woefully under-informed and your opinions beneath notice.

I find myself closer to a Stepford/Mayberry in Hell reality than I ever thought possible for the City of New Orleans…

Join me in the following year, if you dare, in going out to see music that MATTERS; from the Soul Rebels to Ratty Scurvics & the Black Market Butchers, or Dr John sitting in with JD Hill at the St Roch Tavern.

Patronize amazing local theater at out-of-the-way places like Allways Lounge & Marigny Theater, the Shadow Box theater or Otter’s Backyard Ballroom, rather than more commercial endeavors, like Professional Douche Bag, Pres Kabacoff’s, ugly little orange mall..

Gird your loins appropriately, folks, and head on out.
Life in this city is dangerous.
Its complicated.
It’s amazing & it’s beautiful.
In the final measure, for me, it’s the only way to go.

Writing the Edge November 20, 2011

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My review of Writing the Edge at this year’s Fringe Fest is up at NOLA Defender. There are photos on Facebook and in Flikr here. It was overall a tremendous night of poetry performance, for which I have to commend organizer/MC and performer Valentine Pierce and all of the involved performers. Sadly did not draw the SRO crowds of last year. I have to wonder aloud (as I do in the review) if the vaguely Katrina theme kept away a Katrina-weary audience. Go read the whole thing for the details. Thinking about it this morning it led to a long rumination on poetry which I’ll get up later tonight but for now go read the review and the one below of The Baroness Undressed.

The Baroness Rampant November 19, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in History, New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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How do you collapse the fantastic and tragic story of the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba into a one woman show of less than 30 minutes? Why, with a corset, of course.

For the first several minutes of The Baroness Undressed, after Diana E.H. Shortes’ entrance onto the Allways Lounge’s small stage we witness a silent and powerful physical performance of operatic violence, a marionette possessed, as she laces her corset and buttons her bodice with the tenacity of a lioness, twisting and bending and contorting her body with and her face with pain and frustration with every yank of the laces and every recalcitrant button wrestled into place she has assumed both the costume and the persona of her tortured aristocratic character. What is laid naked in this show is the interior of the Baroness’s character.

In this very short one-woman show Shortes gives us the essentials of the Baronesss’story. one
“no woman living today could understand”: a privileged Creole child named for St. Micheal the Archangeal “who cast Satan himself into hell”; a wealthy young “heiress from both ends” subjected to an arranged marriage to her cousin Xavier Celestin Delfau de Pontalba; how the Pontabalas took her away from New Orleans to a prison-like castle outside Parish; bitterly spits out that she “conceived six times” but does not otherwise mention her children; the attempts by her father-in-law to steal her fortune that ends with his attempt to murder her; how he failed and ultimately took his own life; how she ultimately returned to New Orleans and recovered her fortune, finally escapes from the clutches of the Pontablas.

Until the last minutes of the play, when she begins to unbind herself from her constrictive feminine costume and relates her ultimate triumph and monument–the buildings that still bear her name–she struggles through her corset to find the breath to tell her story. She collapses not only to the feinting couch that is the stage’s only dressing, but frequently onto the floor. Her attempts to speak with a masculine ferocity frustrated by the tightly laced female costume of that period which leaves her frequently a gasping heap, a perfect symbol for the societal strictures she struggles against. From the couch she rises wielding her fan, once again–if only for a moment–the charming Creole aristocrat. From the floor she struggles to her knees and to her feet like someone just shot, determined to catalog at any cost the injustice and injury she suffers.

In one of the shows most dramatic moments, as she describes the attempt on her life, she slowly pulls a long red scarf out of her bodice as if she were in fact bleeding out on the stage. Later, as she recounts the parallel troubles her native city suffered she brilliantly ruffles the same scarf over the floor as she describes the fires that twice destroyed the eighteenth century Vieux Carre. As toward the end she reverses the process of dressing and pulls off her dress gloves she prominently displays the left hand as if hooding a particularly striking ring up to the light, the fingers of the hand shattered by her in-laws bullet clad in a solitary black under glove.

Shortes uses her thin body, Veronica Russell’s costumes (the constraining corset, the perfect sense once dressed of an eighteenth century lady in a Franco-Spanish city, the darkly sexy garments underneath it all) and the consequences of those costumes to stunning physical effect, but it is ultimately her face flashing with lizard quickness from coquettish smile to contortions of pain and of rage that allow us into the soul of the Baroness.

As Shortes recounts her struggles not only with her powerful voice but with every thread of her costume and every muscle and sinew in her slim frame, she plays not for sympathy but for respect, decrying the patriarchal feudalism the Baroness struggles against. Shortes captures the emblematic Pontabla perfectly, becomes New Orleans’ anti-Joan of Arc who takes up her fan like her name saint’s sword and ultimately triumphs over every man and tragedy life places in her way, her monument the graceful apartments upon which her emblematic P is still emblazoned on every gallery in iron as hard as Shortes’ Baroness herself.

Odd Words at the Fringe November 18, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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No, the post title is not a tautology. I will be reviewing a few plays for NOLA Defender, and probably reviewing some others on my to see list here on Toulouse Street which the Defender already has covered by other writers.</p

Odd Words November 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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I think my last post, Blogging by the Book, is introduction enough for this week’s Odd Words. So let’s dive right in.

& This is the fourth year of New Orleans’ annual festival of experimental theater, Fringe Fest. I’m not going to try to tell you everything that’s going on. That’s what the Fringe web site is for. And if you haven’t started scanning the cubes already, you’re way behind schedule as performances started last night

I will call out one, Writing The Edge, a spoken word event Saturday night at the Maison at 7 pm and again at 9 p.m. There’s no complete list of performers on the Fringe site but I know that the fantastic Raymond “Moose” Jackson and Valentine Pierce are on the list. Last year all of the performers were incredible. Did I mention its free? Did I mention it was seriously SRO last year? Get there early.

&This week’s other big event is a visit to 17 Poets! by Bernadette Mayers and Philip Good. Mayer will be reading and signing Ethics of Sleep (Trembling Pillow Press, 2011) and Good will be signing his new book, Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation, new out from Trembling Pillow press. Mayer is one of the major poets of our generation, serving as director of The [prestigious] Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York, editing several influential journals and publishing ten books of poetry and prose. 7 p.m. at the Goldmine Saloon.

& If you’re already overdosed on Fringe by Friday night, stop by the Antenna Gallery and check out the [PANK] INVASION of New Orleans, featuring a rogue’s gallery of talented contributors to the literary journal PANK who promised “Propositions Sudden & Thereupon Poesy   Contortions   Verse   Dynames   Astounding Feats of Potboiling Fabel.” The participating writers include a Rumpus favorite and honorary Orleanian Antonia Crane among the 12 writers participating. Others include Tessa Fountaine, non-fiction editor of the Black Warrior Review; local Robbi Pounds, memoir/nonfiction novel Rubble Fever and M. Bartley Seigel (, founder of the journal PANK. You can check all the bios on Room 220 here. This sounds too good to resist even in the busy clutter of Fringe week. Check the flyer and stop into Antenna Friday at 7 pm.

& Late UpdateIf you’re reading this on your MacBook or iPad, you’re going to want ton consider stopping by Octavia Books tonight to hear Walter Isaacson lecture about Steve Jobs followed by a booksigning. Books may be pre-orded during store hours at Octavia Books, 504-899-7323, or anytime at octaviabooks.com/book/9781451648539. Tonite, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. Expect this one to be crowded with Jobs acolytes.

& If you miss Isaacson tonight, you can catch him again at lunchtime Wednesday at Garden District Books

& Also tonight is a chance to catch James Nolan reading and signing from his new book Higher Ground. For more details on that book, go read my write up of his event at the Words & Music Festival. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure this one is going up on the New Orleans canon shelf here at Toulouse Street after that reading.

& On Friday Maple Street Book Shop will be the bookseller at a reception celebrating the renovation of 1026 Conti Street, the site of the famous brothel operated by Norma Wallace. Wallace was the subject of Chris Wiltz’s highly praised biography, The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld. Chris Wiltz will be the special guest at the reception. For additional information visit www.1026conti.com.

& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s Jazz Happy Hourand opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.

& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID

& This Saturday at Garden District, R. Reese Fuller will read and sign Angola to Zydeco: Louisiana Lives, a collection of creative nonfiction pieces about the lively personalities who call south Louisiana home. Originally published in newspapers based in Lafayette-Times of Acadiana and Independent Weekly-the twenty-five profiles and features provide intriguing glimpses into the lives of well-known Louisianans such as James Lee Burke, Ernest J. Gaines, Elemore Morgan Jr., Buckwheat Zydeco, Marc Savoy, Boozoo Chavis, Calvin Borel, Santy Runyon, and Eddie Shuler. Author R. Reese Fuller. Musical accompaniment by David Rogan.

& Also on Saturday at Maple street, Edward Branley will add to his string o titles on New Orleans landmarks, sharing and signing his latest, Maison Blanche Department Stores. Mr. Branley wrote a wonderful book about the Canal Street street car line as well as Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans. You can pick one up at the bookstore or if you look next time you’re in Walgreens his publisher, Arcadia Publishing, has managed to place point-of-sale displays of their titles right there in what probably used to be your Friendly K&B. Look for the stand-up diplay of their sepia-colored covers.

& On Sunday the long-running Maple Leaf Poetry Series will take a day off because of the expected crowd-crush of the Po-Boy Festival on Oak Street. In spite of these occasional interruptions (including a Katrina hiatus) this event–founded by noted New Orleans poet Everette Maddox- is the longest running poetry series in the South. You can contact Nancy Harris if you want to get on the mailing list, but you can always check Odd Words

& And of course this and every Monday Kate Smash will lead everyone in a rousing chorus of “Mercedes-Benz” after the Writer’s Block reading/performance event on the amphitheater steps across from Jackson Square. 9 .m. No list, no mic, all performers welcome. Bring your didgeridoo if that’s your thing. (I almost bought one at Jazz Fest two years ago; they were such things of beauty).

& Tuesday at Octavia there is a double-header featuring John Jeremiah Sullivan’s PULPHEAD & Nathanial Rich THE MAYOR’S TONGUE. In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us—with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that’s all his own—how we really (no, really) live. Rich’s debut novel, hailed by Stephen King as “terrifying, touching, and wildly funny,” the stories of two strangers, Eugene Brentani and Mr. Schmitz, interweave. What unfolds is a bold reinvention of storytelling in which Eugene, a devotee of the reclusive and monstrous author, Constance Eakins, and Mr. Schmitz, who has been receiving ominous letters from an old friend, embark from New York for Italy, where the line between imagination and reality begins to blur and stories take on a life of their own.

& One last note: after struggling for months to get a reliable contact at the 1718 Reading Series hosed by writing students at Loyola University, M’Bilia Meekers–winner of this year’s Words & Music poetry contest and a student at Tulane active in 1718, kindly sent me the list for this year which I will repost as the events come up. If you want to mark your calendars, here’s the current schedule:

    December 6–Mark Yakich
    January 17–Kristen Sanders
    February 7–Tom Piazza
    March 6–Oluwaniyi Osundare
    April 10–Michael Lee
    May 1–Julie Kane

P.S. If your event is not in here it’s because you didn’t send it to odd.words.nola@gmail.com. I can only spend so many hours trolling the Internet trying to find out what’s going on.

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