NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre is enjoying a renaissance after several years of
artistic autism. Their latest theatrical endeavor, Oscar Wilde's delightful
indictment of Victorian prudery, The Importance of Being Earnest, was a triumph. The eighty year old community theatre recently announced the hiring of Keith Briggs as its new managing director - a major and felicitous move in utilizing the services of homegrown talent (as opposed to the corporate thinking of previous boards which saw them hiring, and firing, a long list of out-of-town theatre managing talent; none of whom were able to make it through one full season). Mr. Briggs is not only a native, but has spent most of his life toiling in the local theatre vineyards as actor, designer and director. The next offering by the French Quarter theatre, the delightful musical, She Loves Me, will be directed by the Mr. Briggs.
Stocker Fontelieu, the indefatigable doyen of New Orleans Community Theatre (having spent 25 years as Le Petit's Executive Director), in tandem with Bill Walker, the theatre's recently acquired designing technical director, pulled off an almost perfect community theatre production of Oscar Wilde's classic comic caper of mistaken identity and devilish wit.
From casting to script preparation, Mr. Fontelieu was at the top of his game.
Working from a script that made a two act play out of a (dated) four acter, utilizing one actor for three minor male roles (and cutting one completely), the play farely zipped along spewing out aphorism after witty Wildean riposte with manic zeal.
The cast, led by Vatican Lokey in the role of John Worthing, aka Jack, mistaken as Earnest; Leon Contavesprie as Algernon, his best friend and another Earnest pretender; Walter Bost as two different servants and a preacher; Lara Grice as Gwendolyn, who will only marry someone named Earnest along with Gemma Denmark as her best friend Cecily who also only wants an Earnest, Pauline Prelutsky as Lady Bracknell, Gwendolyn's mother (and John's aunt) and Abby Lake as Miss Prism, Cecily's governess, are not only lovely to look at, but are also delightful to listen to. They have been so ably directed by Mr. Fontelieu you'd almost believe they were truly British (with the exception of Ms. Prelutsky's decidedly flat delivery).
One of the most confounding aspects of Le Petit's travails of late has been its lack of expertise in the technical department. From costumes to scenery to props to lighting, something was always amiss. In this production I am happy to say all systems were "go." Trish McLain's costumes were period perfect with bustles for the ladies and spats for the men and her dizzy feathered chapeaus augmented the puffery of the female characters giddily. Bill Walker's two sets, a typical English drawing room and a light and airy garden were awesome in their detail and were brilliantly illuminated by the sensitive lighting design of Neil Ingles.
I had the privilege of working with Keith Briggs, the theatre's new Managing Director, many years ago when we were both callow and, yes, earnest in our mutual love of theatre. I hope Keith will be successful where others have failed and that his most important endeavor, building a new audience base, will be victorious. If he can maintain the quality of Earnest, he will have no trouble getting Le Petit's core audience base to return to the fold. One season of consistency in quality of production should do it.