Jim Fitzmorris

new orleans' theatrical pugilism

Nixon in St. Louis: A #LibertarianMoment

August 13th, 2014

I normally don’t use this space for political rants, but the unfolding events surrounding the murder of Michael Brown in St. Louis have made it impossible to not weigh into the situation.

Where are the Republican Libertarians? Where is Rand Paul (update: he has finally arrived)? Where is Paul Ryan? And where are the countless other voices who bemoan the lack of support Republicans receive from African-Americans.

If I was a Republican who wanted to be President of The United States, I might sense the opening. I might head to St. Louis, like Nixon did with China or Reagan did in opposing Proposition 6, and take up a cause on behalf of the people I claim to want to represent.

For too long, the inner cities in this country have been transformed into mini-Gazas, experimental grounds for increasingly weaponized police. Displaying their new toys, they march militaristically into disenfranchised neighborhoods, ratcheting up the tensions to justify their provocations, and abandoning patrol presence for the trappings of martial law.

Isn’t this what the right fears? Jack booted thugs? A police force that looks like muscle for a junta?

Perhaps they’ll start asking for these citizens paper’s next.

Does this only count when it’s white people?

No Democratic politician could put a stop to this. The standard sighs of pandering would follow and wouldn’t get the electrifying press coverage a Republican would.

It is going to take a Tricky Dick going to The Great Wall.

Winning over a constituency isn’t about condescendingly talking slower in the hopes they’ll accept your supply-side, Horatio Alger bromides. Sometimes saying something your base doesn’t agree with tells the rest of the country that a committed half of a small primary isn’t going to dictate how to speak to the majority of Americans.

And if you are a Libertarian, this should be a no brainer. The state, in the form of its steroid induced law enforcement arms, is violating the civil liberties of a minority that has proved one of the most loyal, religious, and patriotic in its history.

Nick Gillespie’s Reason is giving this coverage, but I am amazed at the silence from the supposed civil liberty Republicans.

Imagine a sitting Senator or Congressman with a national following walking into the one of those neighborhoods and calling for deescalation of the fear and intimidation that plagues people who are already terrorized by crime. Imagine them leading a march against cops who look like a U.N Peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.

Imagine them saying, turn the Humvees, tanks, and helicopters around. Imagine them saying release the name of the officer in question, imagine them calling for a top to bottom investigation of the police force, and imagine them saying, “This is America, and I stand here today in defense of your rights.”

And not give a damn that some asshole in Mississippi sees them standing with Black Folk.

Oppressed peoples have long memories. They remember not only the vicious voices that cried out against them, but they also remember the courageous figures who stood with them when no one else would.

Sounds like a Libertarian Moment to me.

 

Veronica Russell

August 7th, 2014

Michaelle Nolan tells a great story about Veronica Russell that I think sums up the actress/costume-designer/noise-maker/dreamer/joyful curmudgeon better than I ever could.

A number of years ago, Michaelle was behind Veronica at The A&P on Royal. When it came time for Veronica to pay, she realized she had grabbed the wrong purse. Michaelle paid for Veronica’s groceries, telling her that someone had done the same for her years earlier.

Less than an hour later, while Michaelle was behind the bar at Pravda, Veronica came in, paid her back, proceeded to buy a drink, and then doubled down on the tip.

That was Veronica.

No grand gestures. Just good to her word, honoring her commitments, and no bullshit. In fact, I think it’s the no bullshit part I will miss the most about her. Anyone who knew her knew she had a bullshit detector the size of her home state. She would give a bullshitter a sideways glance, squint just a bit, and twang, “yeaaaah…” before decimating whatever crap someone had tried to feed her.

When I told Michaelle of Veronica’s passing today at the age of 44, Michaelle simply looked at me and said, “every time I saw her, she made me smile.”

Sober In New Orleans: Rejoice and Be Glad

August 1st, 2014

So, I am sure you have read Jules Bentley’s self-pitying, navel gazing, and outright nasty Sober in New Orleans in Gambit Weekly.

I was so angry when I read the piece that it took me days to be able to organize my thoughts and prevent whatever I wrote from coming out as a primal yelp.

Bentley’s argument boils down to this: alcohol in New Orleans is not only unescapable but its absence also prevents you from functioning properly or enjoying yourself. Essentially, if you stop drinking and sober up, you are like Neo in the Matrix having taken the pill and now dealing with the exposed lie. Without booze, New Orleans is nothing more than the stink of piss and second-rate art.

The more you read, the more Bentley sounds like that same movie’s Joe Pantoliano savoring imaginary steak and wishing himself back under the veil.

The biggest problem is Bentley began with this thesis and then set out to confirm it.

Notice I said confirm not prove. There is a distinct difference. The first means you have made up your mind and only seek validation; the second, instead, seeks to test the theory under difficult circumstances.

Confirming his thoughts was easy. All he had to do was talk to sober people hanging on for dear life in The Sliver by The River. Think about the thrust of his efforts: he hung out in bars talking to those who make their living off drunks and to recently sober drunks who resent having to be sober.

Congratulations, Jules, they agree with you.

Setting out to prove his idea might have been more difficult.

He had moved out of his contempt for live theatre, he might have encountered the numerous costume designers who love to build outfits every year at Mardi Gras and Halloween. They get their highs off their clients’ joy at fitting into their imaginary worlds. Had he dug deeper, he might have met at least one burlesque dancer whose sobriety has led to a better show, a thriving business, and a deepening love affair.

If he went onto Magazine Street the Sunday before Mardi Gras, he might have seen the amazing spreads and happy families who await Thoth with nary a drop of booze around them. And speaking of Mardi Gras, he should really volunteer to march with a High School Band in search of additional chaperones. I have done it twice, and it was one of the most galvanizing experiences of my life.

Delighted children supported by sober adults and all coming together for the music that unites their community. Sound pretty New Orleans to me.

Ever work for a political campaign in New Orleans? Find a candidate or an issue you believe in? It is like electioneering no other place in the country, and for a would-be-writer, it is an experience not to be missed.

I have two friends that are sober who are intoxicated by the music in this town. They catalogue it, play it, and attend every event they can, so they can write about it, cover it, and spread the good news near and far.

I am sober 20 years in this town, and I still marvel how the fun and friendship never ends.

The other morning I woke up in my Fabourg St. John apartment and walked up Esplanade Avenue. During that amazing walk through the oaks, I mentally worked out the problems I am having with a commissioned screenplay, stopped at a collaborator’s home to give her notes on the book for a musical she is crafting, and then she and I completed the walk to Croissant d’Or where I had cafe au lait and an almond croissant that almost seemed injected with butter. We talked for two hours.

Notice what is not present in that previous paragraph?

If you feel self-consicuous around drinking, you are around drunks. If people constantly ask you if you are not drinking, you are around drunks. If you are sadder because you are not drinking, you are a drunk. And you haven’t sobered up.

You are merely not drinking for the moment.

Of course, the lonely and broken places fueled by alcohol look lonely and broken when you stop drinking. But so many places in New Orleans look better with the haze of booze gone.

Bentley should come find us, and we’ll show him where.

I am not sure what possessed Gambit to take Bentley up on the story. But they did, gave him a wide audience, and allowed him to take a couple of potshots at a city that is so much more than the sloshed nightmare that appears once you take the pledge.

And for that, shame on them.

What Fools These Critics Be: Plot (Ctd)

June 19th, 2014

So… The idea is outlined, and I can now start writing the review.

Almost.

There is one bureaucratic responsibility for which I have yet to account: a synopsis of the play.

That tasks requires I spend words against my 700 word limit, so I have to tread careful.

This requires some real editing. I must say just enough that the reader knows the story without spoiling crucial moments in the plot. My basic rule of thumb is 10% of the review can be spent summarizing plot. Anymore and I run the risk of not being to talk about direction, acting, design, or thematic concerns. After all, it is a critical engagement with a production not a summary of a text.

So in the case of The Advocate, 700 words means around 70 on plot. Now, if plot points emerge in discussing other qualities of the show all’s the better, but if I spend two paragraphs or more laying out the tale, I am short changing my reader of what is essential in making the choice to attend or making sense of a show that they have seen.

The great exception is new work. If the play is a regional or world premiere, then the text itself is fair game. Its structures, rhythms and concerns, in fact, should be front and center. That changes the structure of the review, because it turns the order of discussion into an analysis of what the play is trying to achieve, the quality of that writing, and then answering the question does the production do service to that mandate.

In the case of Midsummer, I had the advantage of that play being incredibly well known even beyond the usual familiarity with The Bard’s work. Since, I had a great deal to say about the production I kept the thrust short and sweet…

It is unlikely you will see the resources used to tell this version of Shakespeare’s tale of love and confusion in an enchanted forest available to any other nonmusical production in town.

Throughout the remainder of that review, I do explicate a number of the characters’ importance to the plot, and it helps create a better picture of the overall tale. However, I begin with the presumption that anyone invested in reading my review knows the contours of this particular play.

Yes, as with all rules of thumb, there are exceptions (and if you read my reviews you will find them), but each and every one of them should be grounded in helping amplify the critical engagement of the immediate production.

Anything else is a book report.

 

What Fools These Critics Be

June 17th, 2014

By now, I am sure you have read my harsh criticism of Tulane’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Mostly due to spatial considerations, it was the hardest review I’ve had to write for the paper. Populated by 19 actors and containing a major contribution from every technical theatrical aspect, the show’s successes and failures offered endless angles and approaches I could have used in analyzing the ever-popular play.

And that is my topic today: how I construct the theatrical reviews that you read in The New Orleans’ Advocate.

My methodology has three parts. First, I seek to recreate the experience of the actual show. Second, I then focus on my principal reason for approval or disapproval, and finally, if possible, I look to draw larger conclusions about theatre or the New Orleans’ theatre scene in general.

Reconstructing the performance can take two forms. I can either try to write in a way that gives the reader a sense of what the show is like while watching (as I did with Young Frankenstein at Rivertown or Sister Act at The Saenger), or I can perform a theatrical autopsy as I did with Skin Horse’s Macbeth. The former method is akin to trying to capture the energy of a roller coaster ride while the latter becomes a clinical breakdown of the various parts in an attempt to make sense of what worked and what didn’t.

As you probably have guessed, a more visceral response earns reconstruction and a more inquisitive response requires a forensic examination. In the case of Tulane’s Midsummer, I wasn’t angered by its failure so much as puzzled as to how so many resources could be squandered, so I began to look for reasons why the show left me cold. Therefore, that review is a dissection of sorts.

Once I have determined approach, I begin to select specific examples to back up my emotional and intellectual assertions. With just around 700 words to use, I need to be incredibly selective. Choose wrong and either I lose the thread or end up looking like I am grinding an individual axe.

I focused on Liam Kraus’ performance as Bottom, not because he was the worst offender of a style that I felt undermined the proceedings. I focused on him, because he was indicative of that style. Readers who are familiar with Shakespeare would instantly know the character. Therefore, it makes discussing the problems of his performance easier, since I do not have to unpack a great deal of explanation about the role he is presenting.

In explaining that role, I am able to explain the overall energy of the evening with specificity allowing the reader to draw larger conclusions to the overall problem. It then opens the door for what I believe to be the explanation: the performances were strident and overcharged, because the technical elements of the productions required that of them.

Now, we can have a debate about whether or not the actors in Midsummer could have figured out solutions to navigate the production’s overly ambitious technical charge, but when more than a few actors are doing the same thing, the logical thought is they are either being told to do that or they are compensating for something.

And that brings me to the conclusion. The orgy of effect and a more or less consistent style of acting can only have come from one place: the director. Since that is where I gleaned the problem that is where I laid it. If you notice, both the lead and conclusion include mention of the directorial shortcomings. The first is almost posed as a question and the second provides an answer.

Mind you, everything I have shared with you are merely the notes I take before actually writing. Once those thoughts are clear, I begin working on the review proper. And that process has other considerations I have not yet shared.

But I will tell you about those tomorrow.

 

Jim Fitzmorris

new orleans' theatrical pugilism