Krewe of Endymion parade sets off from Mid-City (photos)

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What started out as a typically crazy and out-sized Krewe of Endymion parade became a sad night of pain for many parade-goers when a driver plowed into the route at the corner of Carrollton and Orleans avenues in Mid-City on Saturday (Feb. 25).

The parade started out innocently enough, having partially loaded in on Friday to get a head start, and, while many respected the new rule about keeping the neutral ground clear at the outset, plenty others jumped the barricades and enjoyed the fun — not learning until later what had happened further down.

We will share information as we get it, and also add more photos later.

Krewe of Nyx owns Wednesday night, and Ancient Druids (photos)

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Krewe of Nyx is now considered a super-krewe, and the members pretty much proved the point with their “Dancing the Night Away” parade that rolled through Uptown and into the CBD on Wednesday night (Feb. 22), owning the night as well as its preceding, so-called rival, the Ancient Druids.

There’s really no need to rehash Druids, which, while not nearly as offensive as in previous years, still continued its clunky deliver of its version of satire — which included a rather transphobic appraisal of Caitlyn Jenner. (This appeared to pull a page from satire better suited for a 2016 parade, but Druids has rarely been known to keep up with the times.)

Regardless, Nyx rolled behind, saving the best for last. I wasn’t wowed by the parade theme or some of the float execution, but others on social media theorized that Nyx’s emergence has also surprised in quality its most commonly referred-to all-female peer, Muses. You be the judge on this one.

 

 

 

Guest Essay: David Johnson offers a Presidents Day history lesson

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EDITOR’S NOTE: For anyone who follows historian and journalist David Johnson on Facebook, his “Weird Presidential History” posts have been an ongoing treat since the November election. David knows whereof he speaks; the new editor of museum publications at the New Orleans Museum of Art also served as editor of award-winning Louisiana Cultural Vistas and KnowLA.org, the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana. He also serves as a board member of the (upcoming!) Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, and is an avid presidential history buff. “I have visited every presidential library in the National Archives system, from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush, as proof!” he noted in presenting this guest essay. Fun stuff to ponder for Monday (Feb. 20), President’s Day. Enjoy.

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Author David Johnson

Presidents Day offers Americans a chance to reflect upon the 43 men who have represented the nation since 1789. Louisiana has long been host to a series of events that have shaped the presidency from its earliest days. Thomas Jefferson acquired the territory that ultimately became a state in 1812. Zachary Taylor, the only Louisianian to achieve the presidency, owned a plantation north of Baton Rouge in the 1840s. A young Abraham Lincoln sailed to New Orleans from his hardscrabble Indiana family farm to make money in the 1830s. Teddy Roosevelt found the “Sportsman’s Paradise” an irresistible destination for hunting and fishing expeditions. Alarmed by the threat to Gulf birdlife, he would establish one of the earliest national wildlife refuges at Breton Island in 1904.

Franklin and Eleanor frequented the state to witness New Deal projects following the death of nemesis Huey Long. Many of John F. Kennedy’s friends — and ultimately his assassin — emerged from Louisiana. George H.W. Bush would be nominated for the office at the Superdome in 1988. Seventeen years later, his son would be harangued for failing to provide timely assisted to thousands stranded there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What follows here are a few little-known aspects of how the state has played a role in influencing the worldview of the varied men who have called the White House home.

thomas-jefferson-origTHOMAS JEFFERSON
Not long after Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, he received word that the surprised citizens of La Nouvelle Orléans were anxious about the prospect of American rule. Among those who raised concern was Mother Superior Therese de St. Xavier of the Ursuline Convent, a nunnery that dated back to the city’s earliest French colonial founding in 1718.

In a letter dated July 13, 1804, a mere seven months after the real-estate transfer, President Jefferson assured the sister that though the U.S. would expect an unfamiliar separation of church and state in the former French and Spanish colonial city, the convent and its school would be guaranteed freedom to practice its charitable works and educational goals with no interference from federal authorities:

“To the Soeur Therese de St. Xavier farjon Superior, and the Nuns of the order of St. Ursula at New Orleans

“I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. the principles of the constitution and government of the United states are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it’s own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.

“I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship & respect. Th: Jeffers”

lincolnriverboatABRAHAM LINCOLN
In April 1828, at age 19, a lanky Abraham Lincoln journeyed down the Ohio River and into the Lower Mississippi Valley aboard a flatboat loaded with the bounty of farm products from his Indiana homeland. For young men in the early 19th-century Midwest, a riverborne escapade floating down current to New Orleans was an adventurous rite of passage and a means of putting cash in bare pockets. Continue reading

Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade: No bone of contention on a fun day in the French Quarter (photos)

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Hundreds of dogs and their escorts promenaded through the French Quarter as tens of thousands cheered on in the annual Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon (Feb. 19).

This year’s theme: “Pirates of the Crescent City: Barkus Tells Tales of Jean Lafleabag.” Several venders supporting everything from shelter to animal rights were on hand as well.

I was given the opportunity to follow along with the Disco Amigos, the popular dance group, that literally brought up the rear of the parade, which started and ended in Armstrong Park. I’ll have some videos up later.

Krewe of ’tit Rex Trumps hate but hates Trump in Mardi Gras parade (photos)

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Well, he had it coming. And with at least one float, you could make the argument he came close.

The tiny Krewe of ’tit Rex was big on satirizing our golden new president, Donald J. Trump — the “J” apparently stands for “Jesus Effing Christ a Lot of People Don’t Like Me Down There” — in a parade held Saturday (Feb. 18) and starting on St. Roch Avenue. The parade itself in some ways feels like it’s out-grown itself. The overflow of humanity makes it difficult to appreciate the intricately lit and designed shoebox-size floats, with amateur and professional photographers and videographers jockeying for position alone the sidewalk of the neutral ground.

But in skewering the new president (and many others), the krewe proved once again that big things come in small packages.

 

PODCAST: NOMA’s Vanessa Schmid explains “A City That Lives on Water,” one of the four components of “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s”

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“A LIFE IN SEDUCTION: VENICE IN THE 1700S”
WHAT: Exhibition of costume, glass, handbags, masks, a puppet theater, and exquisite paintings by Canaletto, Guardi, Longhi and others from one of the centers of Western art
WHEN: Feb. 16-May 21, 2017
WHERE: New Orleans Museum of Art
MORE INFO: Check out the event page

Before the press preview of the new exhibition by the New Orleans Museum of Art, “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s,” I got a chance to sit down with the woman who put it all together. Vanessa Schmid, the Senior Research Curator for European Art, focused on one of the four components of the exhibition, “A City That Lives on Water,” which I thought was a nice connection to New Orleans (though you will find there are others in this amazing collection).

Schmid discusses some of the examples that fit into the water theme, although one image that particularly resonates with her — “The Redentore Procession,” oil on canvas, by Joseph Heintz, The Younger — is elsewhere in the exhibition. (It is an amazing piece; check it out in the gallery above.)

I will have more both on the exhibition (which opens Friday and runs through May 21), and will welcome Schmid as a guest on the next episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on Saturday (3 p.m.-4 p.m.) on WHIV (102.3 FM). You also can read an essay by Schmid about the exhibition in the the NOMA Arts Quarterly publication.

The exhibition is guest-curated by the former director of the Civic Museums of Venice, Giandomenico Romanelli. Check out the array of programming planned, including lectures, films and festivities, around the exhibition.

“On the Map”: Basketball documentary remembers a time when miracles happened in Israel — with a little help from its friends

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Tal Brody utters his immortal words after a major upset for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“ON THE MAP” SCREENING
WHAT:
Reception/screening of sports documentary about Israel’s winning the 1977 European Championship
WHEN: Thurs. (Feb. 16), 6 p.m. (reception) and 7 p.m. (screening)
WHERE: Jewish Community Center New Orleans Uptown (5342 St Charles Ave.)
ADMISSION: Free
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

This NBA All-Star Weekend will bring out many of the familiar basketball stars of yesterday — it’s as much a family reunion as anything else. Many will be looking out for Magic, Michael and Koby.

I’ll be looking out for Brody.

Tal Brody, who led one of the greatest upsets in basketball history, will be joined by former NBA great Dave Cowens and women’s hoops legend Nancy Lieberman for a special screening of the documentary “On the Map” on Thursday (Feb. 16) at the Jewish Community Center New Orleans’ Uptown location. The legends will mingle at a reception at 6 p.m., followed by the screening at 7 p.m. and then a question-and-answer session.

Brody, a New Jersey native, was a former first-round NBA draft pick who instead chose to play for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team and, toward the end of his career, led the team on an improbable run to the 1977 European Championship. It was in an era of incredible contrasts; Israel, not yet three decades old as a national state, was still trying to heal from the successive wounds created by the massacre of its 11 athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War as well as the tense 1976 hijacking by terrorists of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv. And while the nation shared with Europe a new-found passion for basketball, teams such as Russia, Spain and Italy were the real powerhouses.

Athletically and nationally, Israel needed a win. They got it, thanks to an unlikely assemblage of players that started with Brody, an American Jew, and a handful of other, non-Israeli imports that included an African-American starting center, Aulcie Perry. (He later converted to Judaism.)

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“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV, Ep. 16: Will Coviello on Krewe du Vieux, Leslie Castay and John Pope on “Sweeney Todd” and Alison Logan on “The Original Classy Broad”

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We had a lot of fun on Saturday’s (Feb. 11) episode of WHIV (102.3 FM), in which we welcomed a wide range of guests:

Will Coviello, arts and entertainment editor for Gambit, as Krewe du Vieux prepared to roll in the Marigny and French Quarter that night. (Coviello also is a member of the sub-krewe Spermes).

Leslie Castay, who played The Beggar Woman in the New Orleans Opera Association’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” and writer John Pope, who offered his take on the blurred lines between opera and musical theater for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

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Can watching The NOLA Project’s “A Few Good Men” help make America great again?

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“A FEW GOOD MEN”
WHAT: The NOLA Project presents Aaron Sorkin’s debut stage work, a military courtroom drama; Jason Kirkpatrick directs A.J. Allegra, Cecile Monteyne, Michael Aaron Santos and others
WHEN: Thurs.-Sat. (Feb. 9-11), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Feb. 12), 3 p.m.
WHERE: Timothy K. Baker Theatre, Delgado Community College
TICKETS: $30 (general admission), $20 (NOLA Project Backstage Pass Members, $24 (military & veterans: $24, $10 (Delgado students)
MORE INFO: Visit The NOLA Project website

To attend a production of The NOLA Project’s “A Few Good Men” at Delgado Community College is to take a step back in time. Yes, it takes one back to the early 1990s, when the kinetic rhythms of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogues and monologues had not yet invaded America by way of movies (“The American President”) or TV shows (“Sports Night,” “The West Wing,” “The Newsroom”). The stage and screen versions arrived as a kind of postscript to 1980s Hollywood — in which macho, Reagan-era action thrillers like “Red Dawn” and subtle, pro-military movies like “An Officer and a Gentleman” were juxtaposed with Vietnam War cautionary parables like “Platoon” bemoaning the insanity of war.

But it also feels like going all the way back … to 2016.

As noted a few weeks ago in the preview to the show, Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep’s famous “You can’t handle the truth” monologue provided the rationale for collateral damage; that to defend our country, we need the few, the proud, but also, the strong. The weak must be pushed to the side — even eliminated — to defend our higher ideals. This is not just about thinning the herd. The Marines, as their soldier characters tell us, live by a code: “Unit, corps, God, country.” And when someone breaks that code, they must pay a price, for the good of the country. But Sorkin tells us that there’s such a thing as understanding the differences, the nuances, of a code, especially when improperly applied. We are, he argues, rational, thinking human beings, and we must understand when living a life blindly following orders, we blind ourselves to doing what is right.

All of this stuff has been pondered over the years, but watching the show live onstage for the first time in over a decade — there was a capable mounting of the play at True Brew Theater — conjured fresher images. And part of that is because, intended or unintended, “A Few Good Men” arrived again fresh off a contentious presidential election, and finished up a few weeks into the Trump administration. It’s almost impossible to think about words like strength and weakness and not think about Trump’s motto — “Make America great again” — and wonder at what price, or even in what way, that greatness is supposed to be achieved. In my mind, what Trump is also getting at is strength, which is part of the backbone of the kind of authoritarianism and nationalism Trump is consistently pushing. When forced to criticize Russian President Vladmir Putin, Trump always demurs, preferring instead to compare Putin’s so-called strength as a leader to the perceived weakness of Trump’s more cerebral predecessor, ex-President Barack Obama.

In some ways, I see a lot of Trump in Lt. Col. Jessep, and a little bit of Obama in his underling, Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson. Jessep is hard charging, a win-at-all-costs kind of guy who only respects action and strength, and detests weakness. He’s also a bit caught up in his own vanity, comfortable not just in his moral certitude (as confirmed by his other underling) but also in the knowledge he’s about to move up in the military ranks. The latter, like Obama, is cerebral, reticent, and hesitant to use force.

[Learn more: “Hillary Is Tom Cruise To Trump’s Jack Nicholson In ‘A Few Good Men’ Debate”: Huffington Post]

So what does that make the rest of us, in this play, or in this new world order? Maybe we’re like the two grunts, Dawson and Downey, who did a bad thing, however hesitantly, because they were only following orders, and following a code to its letter or face some version of dishonor. How will we respond as citizens when we’re told to do things in the name of strength, or in the name of the law (our “code”), when it doesn’t seem right to us?

Or maybe we’re more like the callow Lt. Daniel Kaffee, who has at least a smidgeon of rank but who’s also oblivious to the ways of a military that is (as Jessep continually insists) in the business of saving lives? And someone who doesn’t initially appreciate this strict code? And someone who, to better fight this code’s misinterpretations, must work the unused muscles of his own code of ethics.

Living in 2017 and not 1992, I most related to Kaffee’s good friend and defense teammate, Lt. Sam Weinberg (played here by Andrew Larrimer), arguably the moral conscience of the group, and (not to be overlooked) a new father. When guiding a newborn life, a parent appreciates the dangers of this world, and almost immediately develops a pathological wariness of bullies. When asked by Lt. Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway why he doesn’t like his clients, Sam retorts, “They beat up on a weakling. The rest is just smoke-filled coffee house crap. They tortured and tormented a weaker kid. They didn’t like him. So, they killed him.” (Galloway’s response about why she likes her clients — in the movie version but not this play’s version — is awesome: “Because they stand on a wall and say, ‘Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.’” It’s as maternal a thought was one could imagine, just applied differently.)

So what, if anything, does “A Few Good Men” tell us about doing the right thing, or even about the moral or ethical value of disobeying orders in the service of a greater good — especially now? While conceding the realities of political theater, we are seeing various forms of disobedience (or “resistance”) in these early, chaotic weeks of the Trump administration. We see it in the firing of then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (an Obama appointee) after she instructed the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s immigration-related executive order in court.

[Learn more: Performances overcome script’s flaws in NOLA Project’s “A Few Good Men”: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune]

We see it in the increasingly popular Twitter feed “Rogue Potus Staff,” which describes itself as “The unofficial resistance team inside the White House.” (This has not yet been confirmed.)

But after watching “A Few Good Men,” I can’t help but wonder where else we might see someone in the government, in the military, even, refusing a direct order they believe to be wrong. I’m reminded of one of the two missile silo operators in another Reagan-era movie, “WarGames,” in which he refuses to follow orders and launch a nuclear strike on Russia because he just can’t believe he’s supposed to do this. (He’s replaced by a computer.) In the real world, how many times can the intelligence community listen to a president demean its work? How many times can the military be asked to execute a possibly poorly planned mission, or see its role on the National Security Council diminished? At what point will good people, with good intentions, be asked to do something they believe in their heart is wrong, and contradict an order? And should they?

President Trump believes he can “Make American great again,” and that he can do it through authoritarian action, and through a strain of nationalism that strikes at the heart of our own rather obvious multicultural and pluralistic identity. And so we might seek wisdom where we can find it. I confess to an affinity for Sorkin’s often-lofty and idealistic prose. In the final scene, Dawson explains to Downey why, even after Jessep’s improbably confession, they’re still found guilty of a lesser charge — “It means we beat the shit out of the wrong guy.”

I wonder if we’ll be coming to that realization, like Dawson and Downey — after the fact, when it’s too late.

Podcast: Another year, another “Sweeney Todd” for Leslie Castay

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(Photo by Tom Grosscup)

“SWEENEY TODD”
WHAT: New Orleans Opera Association presents the Stephen Sondheim classic inspired by the “penny dreadfuls” of Victorian London
WHEN: Fri. (Feb. 10), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Feb. 12), 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts
TICKETS: $25-$218
MORE INFO: Visit NOOA website

To say that speaking with Leslie Castay is in familiar territory is an understatement. She’s sitting in the office of B. Michael Howard, the Tulane musical theater chair and former leader of the Summer Lyric Theatre, which staged Stephen Sondheim’s classic “Sweeney Todd,” just a few steps downstairs in the Lupin Theater.

Castay, who’s working with Howard as she gets her master’s in musical theater, played the role of Mrs. Lovett in that 2016 production, and, in what is more than a happy coincidence, is back in the same production but in a different role when the New Orleans Opera Association presents the show on Friday night (Feb. 10) and Sunday afternoon (Feb. 12) at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Armstrong Park. In this production, Castay takes on the role of the Beggar Woman, who (spoiler alert!) is just as familiar with “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” as the other woman, so to speak.

(You might remember Leslie Castay from her PopSmart NOLA contribution about performing in “The Lion in Winter.”)

As John Pope notes in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, “Sweeney Todd” blurs the lines between musical theater and traditional opera, but definitely will enjoy a grander stage and with a more fleshed-out stage production. In this little “PopSmart NOLA” podcast treat (in advance of Saturday’s show on WHIV, 102.3 FM, 3 p.m.-4 p.m.), Castay discusses why she loves the production and how those lines blur.

“Sweeney Todd” is inspired by the “penny dreadfuls” of Victorian London; Sondheim’s score fueled eight Tony Awards in 1979 in telling a darkly funny and macabre tale of murder and revenge.

This particular production features a family reunion of sorts; the husband-and-wife team of New Orleans native Greer Grimsley (Sweeney Todd) and Luretta Bybee (Mrs. Lovett) join forces for this production after having performed in the show separately over the years.