I just love kicking off the season with a comedy,” Aimée Hayes says, reflecting on the fall lineup at Southern Repertory Theatre. The fact that the first play of the season was written by one of her favorite playwrights is icing on the cake, she says.
Hayes, who is artistic director of Southern Rep, has previously directed two works by Sarah Ruhl, a MacArthur Fellowship-winning writer with a long string of highly regarded plays to her name. This time, though, Hayes is not working off-stage, but on, playing the role of “She” in Ruhl’s romantic comedy “Stage Kiss.”
Under the direction of Jason Kirkpatrick, “Stage Kiss” tells the story of an “older” actress who has not been in a play for 10 years and then gets cast in a 1930s melodrama opposite the man who was her first real-life true love.
The uncomfortable situation sets the stage for this “play within a play,” and “it’s just hilarious,” Hayes says.
She thinks the work provides a suitable kick-start to one of Southern Rep’s strongest seasons to date. The play runs through Oct. 10 at Ashé Power House, the new theater at Ashé Cultural Arts Center at 1731 Baronne St.
Southern Rep has been without a permanent home since 2012, when it lost its lease on its long-time space in the Canal Place shopping center. Since then, Hayes has continued to present full seasons of works on various stages around the city.
Following “Stage Kiss,” Southern Rep will present “Song of a Man Coming Through” at First Grace United Methodist Church on Canal Street.
Featuring stage, film and television veteran Lance Nichols (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” HBO’s “Treme,” Netflix’s “House of Cards,” “NCIS: New Orleans), this work is the true story of convicted murderer Earnest Knighton Jr. and the priest, lawyer and paralegal who reluctantly became his advocates.
In real life, that priest was Joe Morris Doss, and Doss and his son Andrew Doss are the writers who developed the play in fulfillment of a promise to tell Knighton’s story.
Along with Nichols, the cast includes Robert Doqui, Mike Harkins, John Neisler and others who create an intense theatrical experience that’s interwoven with gospel music and second lines. Hayes directs the world premiere, which runs Nov. 7-21.
For the final two productions of its main-stage season, Southern Rep moves to the Robert E. Nims Theater at University of New Orleans, where it will present “Orpheus Descending”(“A sexy, steamy stranger comes to a small southern town and complications ensue,” Hayes quips), and “Colossal,” the moving story of a college football player who suffered a spinal injury.
The latter work is actually broken into four “quarters” and brings both football players and modern dance artists to the stage, Hayes says.
Southern Rep will also present a “Lagniappe” production of “A Christmas Carol,” featuring Spud McConnell, at the UNO theater.
In addition, the ongoing soap-drama “Debauchery,” by Pat Bourgeois, will be presented this season at the Theater at St. Claude, which will also host Southern Rep’s monthly “PlaySlam” of six 10-minute plays written on a moment’s notice.
The Return of Grandeur
For a full decade, New Orleans was without one of the grandest dames of local stages after the Orpheum Theater suffered extensive damage from the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina.
But with a new owner, more than a year of work and the injection of $13 million, the splendor of the historic 1918 theater has been completely restored.
Tipitina’s owner and Tipitina’s Foundation co-founder Roland von Kurnatowski is the benefactor behind the return of the stunning 1,500-seat venue, which opened in September. He expects the Orpheum will host a variety of concerts and other events, but its anchor tenant will be – as it previously was for many years – the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
Audiences of the LPO, which has rotated among several venues, including the Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts, during the past 10 years, will likely delight in the orchestra’s sound in the Orpheum, whose acoustics are particularly well suited to symphonic sound.
Under the direction of Carlos Miguel Prieto, the LPO will continue to regularly visit a few of the other venues where it developed a loyal following after Katrina, but will likely feel most at home within the majestic walls of the Orpheum.
The Orpheum Theater Photo courtesy Opheum Theater, by James Shaw
Le Petit looks ahead
While it holds the title of New Orleans’ oldest stage, the theater that stands just off Jackson Square in the French Quarter has for some years struggled to find itself.
The financial and management troubles that had been brewing at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré were widely known by the time the theater cancelled what remained of its season in late 2010 and closed its doors.
Disputes over how to put the theater back on its feet simmered through the next few years until the board finally signed an agreement with restaurateur Dickie Brennan, allowing him to open a restaurant in half of the building in return for carrying out $1 million in theater renovations.
Le Petit reopened in mid-2013 and began staging a lineup of drama, comedy and musical theater. A year later it turned another important corner by hiring new artistic management.
Maxwell Williams signed on as artistic director in late 2014, and in October he launches his first full season at Le Petit.
Williams came to New Orleans after three years as associate artistic director of Hartford Stage in Connecticut. He previously had associate directed both Broadway and off-Broadway productions, and was director of concert operations for Manhattan Concert Productions.
In his new role he looks forward to engaging with the community and bringing together the right mix of talent to deliver a quality theater experience.
“I’m in this for the possibility of experiencing a real moment of beauty with a group of creative people,” he says.
Williams says audiences can expect a “devotion to the American classics” at Le Petit, along with premieres of new works. The season kicks off with Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” (through Oct. 18).
“The reason I chose it is because it is my favorite play,” Williams says, adding that he hopes to use “Our Town” to spark conversations about what theater means to New Orleans and what the community expects from Le Petit.
“The mandate for me and the new team here is to thoroughly professionalize the theater,” he says, noting that Le Petit has also brought in Katie Hallman as managing director.
Board members want Le Petit to develop a deeper reach and stronger bonds in the community in order to expand the audience, he says.
One of his goals is to increase the diversity of players on Le Petit’s stage through “color-blind” casting that better represents the makeup of the local community. He says “Our Town” will reflect that goal.
Le Petit will follow Wilder with an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” in December and “Sleeping Beauty” in January.
The adaptation of the fairy tale as presented by Le Petit will take the form of “Panto,” a popular British holiday tradition that Williams says has its roots in 16th century Commedia dell’arte.
“I fell in love with the form when I was in college,” Williams says, adding that he thinks audiences will love the “ribald undercurrent” and abundant double entendres in the work.
Later in the season Le Petit will complement the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival with a presentation of “The Glass Menagerie,” and will wrap up in the spring with “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum.”
As his first season at Le Petit unfolds, Williams likely will begin laying the groundwork for season two. “There will probably be some more adventurous plays coming, but mostly we just want to do wonderful plays that are deep and celebrate theater,” he says.
Maxwell Williams Photo courtesy Le Petit Theatre.
Classic beauty in the Marigny
A few years ago, few could have envisioned such a splendid rebirth of the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church on St. Ferdinand Street. Today, fully restored to its 19th century stature, the building is the home of Marigny Opera House, which is dedicated to hosting performing arts as well as community gatherings, celebrations and weddings.
Locals Scott King and Dave Hurlbert purchased the building after the parish relocated to another site, and they presented it as a nonprofit resource for the community. Performing artists and community organizations pay no rent for use of the space, and ticket revenue from public performances is split between the artists and the Marigny Opera House Foundation.
The site has become home to the new Marigny Opera Ballet, directed by Spencer Doyle and Hurlbert. In time for the holidays, the ballet will present Christmas Concerto (Dec. 10-13), a full-length work to the music of Corelli and Handel.
The venue has also hosted musical concerts and offers a monthly jazz performance series. See marignyoperahouse.org for more details.
Marigny Opera House Photo courtesy Marigny Opera House, by Pompo Bresciani.