Sunday, March 27, 2011

Question Authority?

In the early evening yesterday, I found myself walking through the Marigny on my way to a play. It was dusk. The weather was breezy, if a bit humid. Uneventful.

I soon ended up on Elysian Fields, heading toward St. Claude Avenue when I began to hear the soft sound of footsteps somewhere behind me.

They were trudging steadily along at a pace slightly quicker than mine, which, I'll admit, was pretty slow. I didn't feel threatened or scared. I'm kind of stupid that way. But I was alert, and I could hear the sound of those steps growing louder, meaning closer to me, so I paid attention.

Up ahead, between Rampart and St. Claude, sat a police cruiser, parked, with its lights flashing. Cop cars always have their blue and red lights flashing nowadays. It alerts us to their presence. It makes the citizens feel safe and the malefactors wary. I hear there have been surveys conducted at great cost that prove the validity of this practice.

Anyway, the footsteps finally came even with me. I glanced to my left and glimpsed a young kid with a guitar slung over his back. He was sandy-haired, looked a little tired (probably from playing and singing for hours on the street somewhere), but he wasn't a gutter punk and was clearly heading toward some destination. Probably a tiny, ramshackle apartment with a bathtub in it.

He passed me.

On the corner of Rampart, I turned right, the kid kept going straight, passing the parked police car.

A moment later, I heard the short burst of a siren coming from the cruiser. I stopped and looked up. The kid was still walking, the car was still parked. Nothing else happening on the street. Then a voice came out of the car over a loudspeaker.

"You. With the guitar. Yeah, you. Come over here."

I watched as the youth turned around and wearily made his way back to the side of the cruiser where he stopped and started to listen. I crossed the street where I could stand alongside a wall and surreptitiously observe what might be "going down," as the street people say.

Not that I would step forward as a witness should something untoward occur. Witnesses in New Orleans get hurt or killed. If he's a thug, the kid will surely have friends who will track me down and do their worst. If the cops are the thugs, well, what kind of future would I have then?

But I wondered, Why is this? What would make the police stop a person who is simply walking down a street? Granted, he's young. That could be reason enough. Young people are always causing trouble. And he's walking, which means he probably doesn't own a car, which means he probably doesn't have money, which means - what? That he's of a mind to mug a tourist? With a guitar? What will he do with the money he steals? Buy a new guitar to replace the one he broke over the tourist's head? Buy a bike? If he's a hooligan, why buy a bike? He can nick one. They're all over the place.

I wondered at the authority we have given to a few select men and women who, because they wear a uniform of a certain color, can command such obeisance for no apparent cause.

Because of that authority, I figured I'd better keep moving on.

I walked away, but it was still too early to go into the theatre so, when I found a bench set off from the street, I sat and rested. The breeze was cooling my forehead when it occurred to me that that cruiser might soon start up and make a couple of turns. Its second turn would bring it near to me.

What would those officers see in the dim light? An old fat guy slouched on a public bench. Would they recognize in me a predator? A ripper in wait for deeper darkness to cover him as he sprang onto an unsuspecting passerby and slashed her throat?

Fuck.

I dragged my ass off that bench and into the theatre.

'Cause that's what you do when authority can do whatever authority wants to do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Say It Ain't So


You had a great run, spanning years of exceptional beauty and some years of  middle-age spread ("A tad overweight, but violet eyes to die for." - Gary Trudeau). You were as bawdy as a sailor and could handle your liquor just as well, if not better. You were funny, exasperating, childish, and selfish, but loyal beyond compare. The last resident of that movie lot where there were once "more stars than there are in heaven."

(February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Seems Like Brown Shirts Never Go Out of Style

Funny thing about bullies, they attract followers. Not the kind of devotees you and I would want, these fans are the timid souls who quickly jump over to the side of the bully in hopes they won't find themselves in the bully's cross hairs should he glance in their direction.

There was once a local website devoted to New Orleans theatre that was nearly demolished by the cruel vitriol spewed by one bully and his retinue.

Now, the New Orleans theatre community (sic) has a new crotchety knight on horseback galumphing over the horizon, and he has an agenda ("there is little in the way of slick, polished, professionalism in the city"). What he seems to want for this little basin town that doesn't care much about "the boards" is a theatre that is bigger, louder, brighter than Broadway, with tickets that cost more than most people can afford, and that glistens with the glow of squandered wealth.

In order to bring the city to that level, he will apparently hurl every jagged stone at his feet in the direction of the skull of any tattered artist trying to produce something that artist might believe to be worthwhile.

For him, Theater-with-a-capital-T should only exist in a respectable venue with state-of-the-art technology at hand. It should endure at the discretion, and for the pleasure, of "the financially successful creative class." It should be populated by the "me-me-me"-style performer who burns with a desire for self-aggrandizement, the approval of family and friends, and a hot-pink gel in her very own follow-spot.

Not for him "the empty space," the imaginative fire lit in the minds of the audience when presented with a dramatic text given shape and substance by "unpolished" actors who might be in possession of imaginative gifts of their own. By God, give him the theatre created by the great knight Henry Irving when the auld guv'nor introduced gaslight to the Lyceum stage in London. Give him stage business, blocking, motley, and makeup. Enough of this simplicity. It's boring.

Except it isn't boring to me. It isn't boring to a lot of people I know who find themselves transported out of themselves by no more than an actor or two on a bare stage speaking lines from the heart that have been written by someone who had something to say which they were compelled to commit to paper.

The only theatre for us is what is called the New Orleans "fringe theatre." That theatre has its heart in the Marigny and the Bywater, most of it along St. Claude Avenue. It is a poor theatre, that's true. But so was the Greek theatre of antiquity a poor theatre. So was the theatre of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. So was the Restoration stage. So are some of the great productions being mounted today in Europe and in cities across America, away from the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street.

It is the poor theatre that nourishes and alters the Theater of the status quo.

I believe it is best to be mindful of that; and I believe it is proper to pay some respect - not contempt - to the aboriginals in their native land. Should warfare ever break out between those little folk and their betters, my money's always going to be on the ragtag army that has nothing to lose.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Missed Me?


It feels like I've been away for months, although it's only been a week.

I've been kind of down in the dumps, feeling overwhelmed with everything going on in the world and here at home.

The news from Japan has been dismaying. So many people lost, nuclear power plants suffering meltdowns, radiation being discharged into the atmosphere.

Of course, our own media complex wasted no time in raising the alarm about the dangers of all that radiation getting into the atmosphere and sweeping over the god-fearing people of the good ole U S of A, whereupon it will "sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

Oh, but wait, no, that won't happen, it will dissipate. Everyone stay calm and move on, please.

And what about our own nuclear plants and reactors? Not to worry. They're impregnable and immune to accident or sabotage. Unless an accident or act of sabotage should occur. In which case, fuck it all. At least, we had our central air conditioning until the end.

But, hold on, this just in: Charlie Sheen has released another Internet video.We switch you over to ...

Meanwhile, our leaders in their wisdom, in an attempt to demonstrate there ain't nothing lacking in their precious bodily fluids, have decided to do something about Quadafi, Gaddafi, Khadafi, or whatever the fool's name is (does he remind anybody else but me of Ray Nagin in a pillbox hat?). Two Middle Eastern wars ain't enough for our American manhood. Hell, gawddamn, let's go for broke. It's good for business.

Me, I guess, I've just been navel-gazing, trying to be a nursemaid and dealing with the terminal despair-stage of playmaking, what with trying to mount a production of Parallel Lives, a slight little sketch comedy that is driving me to drink and thoughts of  second retirement. That's a picture of my two little angels up on top there. They're good. You should try to catch them in the act if we're all still around next month.

Sad, isn't it? It all comes down to me. Me, me, me, me, me. Pathetic.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Have I Thanked You Lately?

I don't believe I have. In fact, I don't believe I've ever taken a moment to stop and say, "Thank you," to you.

You mean a lot to me, and you should know that.

So long ago, it seems, I scribbled a note, stuffed it into a bottle, and tossed it into the waves of a wide-ranging sea. I will never know all the people who found that message, but I've heard back from some.

I thank you for that.

You always spark a little joy.

Sorry to get so mushy on you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

As the NOPD horsemen advanced down Bourbon Street last night at midnight (at least, I assume they did - I was asleep), Mardi Gras 2011 came to an end. I confess I would have been as contented as an old hound dog dozing sideways in front of a fire if I'd just sat home all day, but someone else had hopes of seeing some revelers and costumes over on Royal Street so, mid-morning, we set out.

I'm glad we did.

I don't know about your Carnival, but ours was nice. I found the people who made up the crowds to be personable, even kind. The ugliest it got for me was when a lady dressed as a glass of lemonade playfully chided me for not being in costume and vowed to hunt me down next year to make sure I was properly festooned in some kind of motley.

Fat chance, darlin'. Your ice cubes will be long thawed before that day arrives. I didn't even have the cojones to wear the funny sunglasses I had bought just for that day. No matter. I'll certainly be looking for you next year, if for no other reason than simple gratitude that you and your pitcher took the time to stop and pose for my camera, then chatted a bit before moving on.

But everyone I encountered was like that, really. They seemed happy. No one appeared to be in a hurry to get to wherever it was they were going.

In thirty-five years of Carnivals, I would rank yesterday as one of the three best I've experienced.

The first one was the year of the great police strike during Dutch Morial's administration. It was sparse since a lot of people apparently believed it would be like a war zone here in the Vieux Carre. It wasn't. The National Guard supervised, and everyone who came out for it came to have fun and was respectful of one another.

My second-favorite Mardi Gras was in 2006, shortly after hurricane Katrina. It, too, was sparse, but for different reasons. People here then were filled with some measure of righteous indignation over what had been allowed to happen to our city, and nearly every encounter became a political discussion. That particular Carnival itself was an act of defiance, an act of resistance. We'd already endured our Lenten season, our period of grief and mourning, now we were marching away from the gravesite, the band playing joyful music.

Those were wonderful events. They caused some kind of change in me.

(Okay, there may have been some other Mardis Gras when I've enjoyed myself, but I was younger then, foolish even. Besides, my lawyer has advised me never to speak of those. So ... I mean, you pay a guy for his advise, you take it, right? Of course, right.)

In the meantime, it's another day. Time now for sackcloth and ashes. Then Easter comes.

It all goes round, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Same Old ...


It's Mardi Gras in New Orleans; and, according to Sitemeter, all anybody in the rest of the world wants to see is this.

Go figure.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A New "Never" Rule

Remember those "Never" Rules your mom taught you when you were a kid? You know the ones:
  • Never take candy from anyone until you've both been formally introduced and you get his correct address (in case you need to sue him after it turns out the chocolate was a laxative);
  • Never talk to a strange man on the street (especially if he's driving a big white van with no windows in the back);
  • Never climb into the priest's box in the confessional even if he tells you he's got Jesus in his pants (well, okay, maybe your mama never told you this one; but, remember, mine was Sicilian); and, finally,
  • Never go anywhere without clean underwear - and a spare pair, in case it turns into an overnighter.
Well, I've got a new one for you. One I picked up first-hand last evening during this Carnival season.
  • Never kiss somebody who slaps perfume on her face.
That stuff gets into the ridges of your lips and the pores of the skin around your mouth and even into the hairs of your mustache and beard, and it never goes away until you shower again in hot, hot water with lots of soap and Head and Shoulders.

And if you don't shower before you eat that Chinese food you just had delivered, you're in for a wicked night.

Everything you eat is going to take on that perfumy taste. The Hot and Sour soup? Ruined. The Egg Foo Young? Rotten. The Crab Rangoon? Like those edible Halloween wax lips.

Then when you go to bed, the food you did manage to get down is going to start swirling and gurgling around in your stomach, and you'll wake up in the middle of the night with a heartburn so bad you'll want to call the ambulance. It will take three Gas-Ex tablets to finally give you some relief. But not before noon.

Then you won't want to eat anything again until tomorrow.

Maybe.

Please take this new "Never" rule to heart.

It just might save your life.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

On Being Reclusive in a Social Town

In the words of the song, "It's Carnival Time," and all I want to do is get home in one piece and clang the gate shut behind me. By Thursday evening, I'd found a spot to park the car, and there it will sit until Wednesday morning, by which time I should find a few new dents and pings. But, hey, it's Carnival time, it's only a car, and no one's responsible. Party on.

It's not easy being this solitary, but I sense I'm not alone. The only trouble with an aggregate of recluses, though, is that we have no meet-and-greets, no after-church get-togethers, no Antisocials Anonymous to call our own. Those things just wouldn't work, anyway. We'd have nothing to say to each other. Hell, we wouldn't be able to sit in the same room together.

Mardi Gras season is especially distressing. Go to a ball? Um, I don't have a tux, but thank you anyway. A parade?! Engulfed by that mob? Sit out in the patio? The neighbors have people in from out of town. Jeez.

No, like everything else in life, it's a matter of making-do, paddling-through.

Now, your Ash Wednesday?

That's a holiday!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Still Touring after All These Years

My grrrl, Karen, writes me that she's taking her act on the road again, this time to the DC area.
Break the Mold Productions is pleased to announce that its production of The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman has been selected as a featured production for Women’s History Month at the Venus Theatre in Laurel, Maryland. The productions features Karen Shields as Charlotte Cushman.  Glenn Meche directs.

Located in suburban Washington D.C., the Venus Theatre is a professional nonprofit theatre company committed to illuminating the voices of women and children. Venus begins its second decade with this ...”for the love”... season.

The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman written, by playwright Carolyn Gage, is the tour de force portrayal of the "farewell performance" of the famed Victorian stage actress, Charlotte Cushman, said to be one of the most famous women in the English-speaking world! After a long and glorious career and noted for her roles in female and male Shakespearean roles as well as her numerous "romantic friendships" with women, Charlotte regales the audience with moving and sometimes hilarious scenes from Hamlet, Oliver Twist and the notoriously bad melodrama Guy Mannering, interspersed with anecdotes about her family, life in the theatre and the romantic intrigues in her circle of friends.

New Orleans theatre critic, David Cuthbert, on WYES, the PBS affiliate in New Orleans, called the show "simply extraordinary ... moving, poignant, terribly theatrical and funny as hell!"

Karen Shields was recently nominated for a 2011 Big Easy Theatre Award as Best Actress in a Drama for her portrayal of Cushman and nominated for a 2011 Marquee Award as Best Actress in a Drama for the production. Asked to comment on these nominations Shields said, “It is an honor to bring back to life a censored historical figure and to represent a population rarely seen center stage. Every actor, female and male, owes Charlotte Cushman a huge debt of gratitude.”

In 2010, The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman, toured colleges and universities in Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia and New Jersey. The production is available for 2011 touring dates. Inquires may be made at www.breakthemoldproductions.com
.
If you're in that area, check out the show. It's worth the 90 minutes and the few bucks. In fact, it's terrific.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's the Use of Wond'rin'?

What kind of man, with a hateful history of bully intolerance, a few days after being arrested for public masturbation in a parked van at a public park where children were playing, calls a press conference to expose his face - long out of the public eye - and try to explain that he was doing nothing wrong?

I would be holed up in a dark, locked room afraid to meet the light of day, talking to nobody but my attorney.

Sad. Sad, sad, sad.
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