A night of laughs, mysteries, and drinks were had at the beautiful Valiant Theatre and Lounge in the Old Arabi Arts District.
NOLA Voice Theatre, a local organization devoted to supporting up incoming and/or struggling theaters in the Greater New Orleans Area, presented a two-act show on June 17 at the Valiant Theatre and Lounge, which is located on 6621 St. Claude Ave. The show, titled Show One and directed by local actor and head of NOLA Voice Theatre Vatican Lokey, included different performances for both of the acts.
Act One of Show One introduced Untold New Orleans, an ongoing series of original stories that draw inspiration from famous New Orleans folklore and myth. These stories are presented as a radio drama with Monsieur Darque, played by local actor Edward R. Cox, serving as host and main storyteller for the many mysterious tales in Untold New Orleans. Think of him as a much better-looking Crypt Keeper who has his own radio broadcast show.
There were two stories, or “files” as they were called in the show, featured in Untold New Orleans for Show One. The first was titled “The Rougarou Murders,” written by Beverly Brooks and Victor Allan Tallant. This story took place throughout the 19th and 20th century and looked at different points in time where people in New Orleans appeared to be murdered by a creature called a rougarou, which is the Cajun version of a werewolf that hunts down people who are guilt of a crime or sin. The second file on display was called “The Ghosts of Le Petit Theatre,” written by Victor Allan Tallant. This story showcased some of the different ghosts that are said to reside in Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre-like 1920s actress named Caroline who haunts a mirror in the theater, a German stagehand named Hans who takes props and costumes, and a top hat wearing ghost called The Spectator who always watches the stage from one of the balconies in the theater. Both stories of Untold New Orleans starred talent actors like B.D. Boudreaux, Soline McLain, Jessica Daigle, Karen Shields, and Richard Mayer, who is also the owner of Valiant Theatre and Lounge.
I found the first installment of the Untold New Orleans series to be a really enjoyable premier. I have always been a fan of local New Orleans ghost stories and folktales, so this was absolutely my cup of tea. I also really liked the idea of making the series like a radio drama. It really harkens back to an age where radio shows like The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which featured the famous War of the Worlds broadcast, were very popular, an age that I know many people are nostalgic for. Lokey, Brooks, and actress Darcy Preston provided a number of different sound effects during the performance, which really helped with the immersion. All of the actors did a fine job in their roles and made sure to give little doses of comedy amidst all of the drama. I had a good time with this, and I can’t wait to see what other stories are adapted into future Untold New Orleans performances.
After a 20-minute intermission and a drink of the Valiant Theatre’s specialty beverage for the NOLA Voice Theatre series, the NVT Cocktail, Act Two presented a voice theater style production of the classic 1940s dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, written by Joseph Kesselring and adapted for radio by Harry Kronman. The play is about Mortimer Brewster (played by William Lee), a drama critic in Brooklyn, who finds out his two old aunts Abby and Martha (played by Karen Shields and Beverly Brooks respectively) have murdered 12 men and had his brother Teddy (played by Vatican Lokey), who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt, to dig the “Panama Canal” in their home’s cellar to hide the bodies. Things get even more complicated when Mortimer’s other homicidal brother Jonathan (played by B.D. Boudreaux) and his accomplice Dr. Einstein (played by Richard Mayer) show up to the house to hide a body of their own. Craziness and hilarity ensues.
Arsenic and Old Lace is, of course, a comedy classic, and NOLA Voice Theatre’s production retained all of the darkly funny charm that made the original play such a standard. The plot has a lot of twist and turns, and the jokes made me laugh really, really hard. Of course, both of these elements are very reliant on the strength of the actors, and all of the actors did a really good job portraying these characters. Lee provided a good straight man performance to offset all of the craziness surrounding him, and Shields and Brooks did a good job portraying the two sweetest and most charming murderers you will ever seen. There were some instances during the show were some of the actors flubbed their lines or came in too early, but those occurrences were very minimal and didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment I had during the entire thing. In my opinion, the cast and crew did a good job portraying Arsenic and Old Lace with all of its grave seriousness and laugh out loud hilarious moments.
NOLA Voice Theatre is putting on two more shows at the Valiant Theatre and Lounge on July 17 and August 19. Both performance days will feature more stories from Untold New Orleans during Act One. The July 17 show, which was originally gonna show Death Takes a Holiday, will now be putting on The Man Who Came to Dinner during Act Two, while the August 19 show will feature The Shop Around the Corner.