The title of this play may be a little misleading. The High Priestess of Dark Alley does not focus on one woman; the piece focuses on three women, and each is strong, intelligent, and full of personality in her own way. They are captivating, unique, and a joy to watch interacting with the men in their lives and the drama that occurs when they’re together. This is a story of a family of women dealing with the biggest difficulty every woman faces when it comes to the heart: men.
We are sent back a decade in time, one year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged our city. We didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t know exactly who we were anymore, and we were all just trying to get through the days until we found out. On Orleans Avenue, we are introduced to two women: elder sister Janee who is a teacher, and her sibling Claire. They live in a nice-looking, but probably small home that their father left them. Things at that time moved very slowly and strangely in the city. The women’s roof was just now getting repaired by a sweet, gentle man named Franklin. He’s clearly sweet on Janee; he refuses to take her money for his work, but does love her cooking. He’s also the assistant pastor of her non-denominational church. Janee has clearly been in a serious funk, and it’s not just due to the storm. Her fun, exciting sister is trying hard to push her to do something with her life, and thinks that she might as well date Mr. Franklin, although he’s pretty “country.”
On her 35th birthday, we learn more about Janee’s troubles when her overbearing, difficult, demanding mother, Celeste, unexpectedly shows up. The girls have a strained relationship with their mother because she’s impossible to please and approves of pretty much nothing. She demands the finest things in life, and thinks that her daughters enjoy wallowing in things beneath them. Take Claire’s funny beau Sweet, for instance, who is definitely a typical New Orleans guy: life-loving, funny, goofy, and loves to have a good time. When Celeste is out of the room, Sweet is the one who recounts the tale of why Celeste is called "The High Priestess of Dark Alley". She may have more powers than she lets on, but that’s probably just her feminine mystique confusing every guy who sees her.
The family is thrown into a dramatic series of talks and laments when Janee’s soon-to-be ex-husband is invited to reconcile with her by her mother. Franklin can’t decide whether to declare his love for Janee while the ex is trying to get back into her life. And the sisters feel like it’s finally time to confront their mother, and tell her that they will finally make their own decisions.
I thought that this play by Jackie Alexander had a very balanced mix of humor, drama, and New Orleans culture. The performances were some of the best I've seen lately because the actors were truly fantastic in their roles. Perhaps they were more comfortable with these characters since the play is set in a time and place that they could be familiar with.
The High Priestess of Dark Alley runs at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré from July 7 - 24, 2016.