On the Waterfronts
By Dalt Wonk
What: My O My
Directed by: Carl Walker
Starring: Bob Edes, Shawn Ryan
Where: Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.cabaretlechatnoir.com
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, May 19; 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 20-21; 6 p.m. Sunday, May 22; through June 5
|Shawn Ryan helps lend pathos to the camp atmosphere of Carl Walker's My O My currently on the boards at Le Chat Noir.|
There are some surprises out there this week. That the girls are boys is certainly not one of them. The My O My club, which opened up at the Lakefront in 1947, was famously dedicated to sexual trompe-l'oeil. 'The Most Interesting Women in the World Are Not Women At All' was the club's slogan. And that slogan appears -- over a photo of a bevy of 'interesting' dames -- on the playbill of My O My, the musical revue currently knocking boys, girls and every other category of patrons out of their seats at Le Chat Noir.
The finesse and elegance of the show are not surprising, either. My O My was conceived and directed by the remarkable Carl Walker, who has given us so many excellent productions over the years. Here, he is at the top of his form. He also dragooned a stellar group of collaborators: writer Kevin Allman, pianist/musical director Larry Sieberth, choreographer Beverly Trask, costume designer Patty Spinale and makeup/hairstylist Brian Peterson. Le Chat Noir's tech crew -- Su Gonczy (set and light design) and Jason Kobloch (sound design) -- outdid its usual high standards. This is an intimidatingly fine show -- and a great deal of fun.
So, where are the surprises? For one thing, this ultimate camp rumpus is not camp, and therein lies its irresistible charm. One expects an easy, over-the-hill travesty (if you'll pardon the pun). That is to say, one expects the 'falsies-and-high-heel' equivalent of an homage -- in the way Elvis imitators exaggerate the already exaggerated original. But this great cast walks the thinnest of lines; it creates a group of charming eccentrics. Their drag queens are not buffoons but entertainers. They are, in fact, interesting. They sing beautifully, they move well, they know how to pop a wisecrack and work a crowd. But, somehow, you sense more behind the performance. You sense the real person who must go home, put on a pot of spaghetti, have a drink and climb into his bed in a small apartment somewhere.
This sense of the performer as a person is never underlined. There is never even a hint of an attempt to elicit sympathy or to make a statement about the pathos of drag-queendom. But that pathos is, for me, the second surprise of the show. I laughed and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed myself, and yet I left the theater strangely moved. My mind was filled with thoughts about a lady (a real lady) named Luba Wesoly who was my neighbor years ago in a New York City tenement. She had been a vaudeville singer. 'Better than Sophie Tucker,' claimed one of her yellowed newspaper clippings. Luba could have been right up there with Pepper O'Rourke (Shawn Ryan), Danni LeMoine (Bob Edes), Mercedes Montez (Paul Soileau) and Carroll de Carlo (Brian Peterson) -- not to mention, that fantastic soprano, Mr. Francis Kaye. So, a tip of the hat to all for the grit and glamour of their strut on the stage.
Meanwhile, there was another theatrical surprise in the area recently. Vanishing Currents, 'a play of global intrigue and a circus of collective artistry,' was presented by the Caravan Stage Company on a tall ship anchored on the Bayou Barataria in nearby Lafitte.
Writer-director Paul Kirby launched Caravan Stage 35 years ago in Canada. It's a sort of itinerant commune. The group used to travel in gypsy wagons pulled by draft horses. Then, they built their amazing wooden vessel, which they use as a kind of floating set -- with the audience seated on the adjoining dock.
Vanishing Currents surprised on many levels, literally, for the show featured acrobatics way up in the riggings. Some of these circus stunts were breathtaking. They also told a story. For instance, a lithe woman glided amidst the stars and the clouds, high above the shimmering surface of the water while singing us a welcome to the River Styx. That connection to nature is part of the magic of the show.
But this is a circus with a political message. There is a container on deck. Inside are refugees, rounded up as part of the antiterrorist campaign by corporations working for the United States government. These refugees are an amiable, well-meaning band of Third World victims. They rebel, take over the ship and sail to an internment camp, where they perform a circus show on shipboard as a protest.
The music, the acrobatics and the visuals were stunning. The bleak, dystopian political message -- though bold and heartfelt -- suffered a bit, for me, from the preachiness of agitprop. But Caravan Stage Company is a highly talented, original and dedicated troupe. Here's hoping it returns.