Vieux Carré Jazzes Up a Classic Play
Contary to the pre-show buzz, seeing College junior Derrick Bean naked was not the highlight of Vieux Carré, which was performed in Hall Auditorium February 7-9. Though the show ran approximately three hours, it was entrancing and enjoyable to watch.
The play was adapted to acknowledge issues relevant to post-Katrina New Orleans, with an added prologue and epilogue. In his director’s note, Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Matthew Wright wrote, “In observing [the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina], we’re reminded of certain universal conditions: the ways in which the past determines our present; the human reality of life experienced as loss; the desperate human need for connection. These are, too, the very themes of Vieux Carré.”
The first act began humorously with Mrs. Wire, played by College junior Jill Murdoch, harassing her lodgers at the Vieux Carré as, one by one, they attempt to sneak home to her boarding house late at night. The second act, however, took a darker, gloomier turn, and the blossoming future of central character and occasional narrator “the Writer” served as the only brightening light. The stark contrast in the moods between the first and second acts was further highlighted by the scene changes during which the synchronized bodies of the actors moved to lively New Orleans jazz music.
The play could have dragged on if it were not for the brilliant performances delivered by the actors. College junior Elizabeth Koehn never showed strain as she portrayed Jane’s slow descent into hysteria. As the Writer, double-degree junior Alex Birnie’s charm poured off the stage and into the audience, while Bean made the audience sympathize with the crass and crude Tye, who spent most of the show abusing Jane.
College senior Rafael Martinez chilled the audience with his haunting gaze as his character, Nightingale, felt death come upon him. In contrast, College junior Elizabeth Woodbury and double-degree sophomore Josh Christian — as Mary Maude and Miss Carrie, respectively — provided much needed comic relief as a pair of old ladies residing in the house. The set was magnificent. The script provided a very detailed description of what the stage should look like, but Michael Grube took that description to a whole new level. A spiral staircase with missing steps cast eerie shadows across the floor. The set looked worn, as if it had been there for hundreds of years, while plants scattered throughout the space gave a sense of hope and life, and Wright used every inch of the set to its full advantage.
Two years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still trying to recuperate. Groups of Oberlin students have offered their support in the past by going down to New Orleans and gutting houses so that insurance companies can appraise them. At the end of the show, donations were collected to benefit Emergency Communities and the United Negro College Fund.