NOLA Voice Theatre ends its season run at the Valiant Theatre and Lounge with continued mystery and plenty of laughs to spare.
With a duty to keep the magic of radio drama-style voice theater alive today, NOLA Voice Theatre finished its summer series at the Valiant Theatre and Lounge, located at 6621 St. Claude Ave. in Arabi. Directed and co-produced by iconic local actor Vatican Lokey, Show Three, which ran on August 28, contained two acts: the first being NOLA Voice Theatre's original creation Untold New Orleans, and the second being an adaptation of the 1940s romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner.
Pulling from different sources of spooky stories and New Orleans folklore, Untold New Orleans, written by Victor Allan Tallant, sees Monsieur Darque (played by iconic local actor Edward R. Cox) presenting different strange stories of old New Orleans in the form of a radio broadcast. The first story, titled "The Ghosts of Muriel's," tells of all the ghosts and tragic events that inhabit the spot that houses Muriel's Jackson Square restaurant at 801 Charters St. The stand-out tale in that story was of a man named Antoine (played by Stephen Denning) who paid the ultimate price when he lost his beautiful mansion, where the restaurant is now located, in a bet with his gambling buddies. The second story, titled "Grunch Road," tells of a bayou road in New Orleans that is said to be home to a strange community of albinos, as well as a mysterious creature.
I found myself enjoying both "The Ghosts of Muriel's" and "Grunch Road" overall, though I think I prefer the former to the later. I enjoyed Antoine's story and honestly wish that it focused mostly on him, but instead, the story jumps around at different points in time to give the history of the spot where Muriel's is located. But I still like some ghost stories, so I'm not gonna complain.
"Grunch Road," which kind of offers its own explanation for the myth of the Grunch Road Monster (a green-skinned chupacabra-type of beast with red eyes), was enjoyable, but I don't know how well the story of the albinos fits with the tale of the monster. Maybe I'm just a sucker for monsters. Regardless of my hesitations, the stories were still solid and all of the actors did a good job with the material they were given. I hope NOLA Voice Theatre continues to release more Untold New Orleans stories, because they serve as a unique gateway to some of the more intriguing myths and tales New Orleans has to offer.
Act two had NOLA Voice Theatre putting on their own production of The Shop Around the Corner, based on a 1937 Hungarian play called Parfumerie and the 1940 film starring James Sullivan and Margaret Stewart. The story, which NOLA Voice Theatre set in a pre-WWII New Orleans, is about a man named George (played by Richard Mayer) and a woman named Amelia (played by Soline McLain) who work together in a shop owned by Mr. Merachek (played by Cox). The two can't stand each other and are unaware that they have been falling in love with one other as pen pals through a number of love letters. We then see them slowly find out the truth while surrounded by a colorful cast of characters played by Scott Crane, B.D. Boudreaux, Jessica Daigle, and others.
Romantic comedies have never really been my cup of tea, but the strength of the actors really helped anchor The Shop Around the Corner for me. It's been said that a good actor can make the phonebook entertaining, and all of the actors delivered their lines with believability and humor. Mayer and McLain work as good romantic foils to one another, and their inevitable trail to romance is nicely paced and believable. I also enjoyed the change in setting. While the original story took place in Budapest before WWII, changing the setting to New Orleans (as well as the characters' names) helps to bring a familiarity to the story that the audience can grab onto. You could almost imagine that this shop actually does exist in the city. NOLA Voice Theatre did a wonderful job with The Shop Around the Corner, and I'm glad that I was able to see it be performed by a talented group of actors.