There are events in our lives, joyful or traumatic, that serve as anchors, forever binding us to a particular place and time. This theme is explored by playwright Lloyd Pace in his intricate and subtle New Orleans, directed by Cynthia Granville.
Buster (Molly Callahan) is anchored to an event from her childhood in the '50s. Although an old woman, she is unable to move beyond her 11-year-old self (she appears as a child in the play), reliving, and as she readily admits, making up some details about, a series of events dealing with her uncle Ivy (Victor Joel), a young woman from the wrong part of town who is desperately in love with him (Meghan Powe), his boss, Mr. Blackman (Bruce Barton) and Blackman's wife, Helen (Granville, who wears three hats in this performance – she's also the set designer). As she reflects on and relives the events, she becomes a narrator of and participant in the story. To give away too many details about plot would undercut much of the power of Pace's script. His play moves at a slow pace, like honey being poured, teasingly revealing clues about the characters and their relationships. Suffice it to say, there are affairs, betrayals, secrets, and death – everything one expects from a play set in and around New Orleans. And while the play doesn't have a nice, tidy ending, that too is to be expected. Since Buster doesn't know what exactly is keeping her tied to these events, how could she fully explain why to the audience?
The set of New Orleans is spare. There is not much in the way of furniture or scenery, which is perfectly fine. The strength of the play is in the language and the characters. The cast is outstanding, with each of the actors creating a unique and believable character – harder than it sounds when each of these characters is drawn as seen through the eyes and somewhat hazy memory of Buster. Of particular note are Barton, whose Blackwell is full of bluster, but has a surprisingly introspective side; Granville, who perfectly conveys Helen's aching need to be noticed and appreciated; Powe, as the young and self-deluded Marie; and Tony White, as Louis, a bellman at a hotel in New Orleans who knows just the right thing to say when he's hustling tips.
The extraordinary find of the play is Molly Callahan. As expected, she has been acting most of her life (both her parents are actors), so it's not surprising that she has a good stage presence and technique. What is surprising is the way she manages to convey a maturity beyond her years in the role of Buster. Expect more good things from her in the future.
Though it is intricate, and at times abstruse, the fascinating New Orleans by Lloyd Pace is well worth the effort.
(New Orleans also features Katherine Parks, Francis Callahan, April Christine, Tony Travostino, and Bonita Carol)
Copyright 2007 by Byrne Harrison
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