Katie East on teaming up with Caitlin Brodnick to laugh at cancer in “Victory for T&A!”

VICTORY FOR T&A: From the Women of Sick Girl of Screw You Cancer
WHAT: In this show of two comedians, New Orleans’ Katie East (Sick Girl) and New York’s Caitlin Brodnick (Screw You Cancer) put a humorous spin on their respective battles with illness
WHEN: Sat. (Nov. 19), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Nov. 20), 2 p.m.
WHERE: The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

As a decidedly defiant dynamic duo, New Orleans’ Katie East and New York City’s Caitlin Brodnick have decided not to take their respective battles with cancer sitting down. In fact, they have no problem name-checking the sources of their illness in their comedy show “Victory for T&A.” Faced with a history in her family of breast cancer, Brodnick boldly decided to opt for a preventative double mastectomy in her 20s — and even had Glamour document the experience on a web series, “Screw You Cancer.”

East has been beset by a range of illnesses and more hardship, including bad surgical experiences and the discovery of cancer in her buttocks — hence the “T&A” of the title. And so she has turned her experiences into what she’s calling a “Coney Island-style freak show.” Here East discusses the show and their shared experiences before Saturday’s opening (Nov. 19).

(NOTE: East and Broadnick will discuss their show as part of a health-care themed episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on Saturday, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., at WHIV (102.3 FM). You also can stream the show live

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at http://www.whivfm.org.

Trace as best you can your health issues — when they started, what they were, and how they progressed over the years?
I’ve had so many! When I was 7, I had a severe kidney infection and ended up in the hospital for a week. I was so dehydrated they couldn’t get an IV started. It took like thirtysomething tries over 24 hours. I had four major concussions before I was 10, which led to scar tissue in my frontal lobe. (Maybe why I’m a comic? No filter). I broke my pelvis in middle school while doing a split. In high school, I had a urethral diverticulum that they said was so large it was only “commonly seen in men over the age of 80.” When I was 20, I got malignant melanoma on my butt, a place never seen by the sun. And two years ago they found a non-malignant tumor on my liver.

It sounds like “getting sick” was only one part of the problem, that you not only suffered from unusual illnesses but also that medical care either failed to help or sometimes exacerbated the situation. How frustrating was this?
A lot of people think doctors are gods. I have had some terrible doctors and I have had some amazing doctors. They are all people, though; they make mistakes. I’ve almost died from some of those mistakes, but I don’t shun the entire profession. My Mom and I have learned that you have to actively do your research. In the end, you’re in charge of your own health, and the doctor’s word is just an opinion. Get many. Finding a good doctor is like dating — shop around and don’t get jaded because there are a lot of terrible ones out there. Yes, it’s expensive; yes, it’s infuriating; and yes, it feels like it should be easier. But, it’s your life, and you have to work for your health.

Where are you now with your health issues? What’s your health status, and where do you see your health moving forward?
It’s all about balance. I hate to sound like Gwyneth Paltrow, but it’s what I strive toward and also struggle with. For the rest of my life, I will have to go to several specialists a year just to make sure I’m healthy. I have come to terms with the fact that doctors are not focused on my wellness. Their job is to make me better when I am sick, by any means necessary. I have to be the one to care about the side effects and keeping myself healthy and my future. Nutrition and mental health and physical activity are all things I focus on and will honestly never listen to a doctor’s opinion on the matter (except maybe mental health, if necessary). I listen to my body and I know what I’m supposed to be doing and when I’m off course.

What inspired you to not only turn this ongoing physical hell into a comedy/cabaret act, and especially with a “freak-show” approach?
In LSU Theatre, we had to do an “auto drama,” which was basically an autobiographical theatrical piece on something important in our lives. I did mine on having cancer just six months after I was diagnosed and a month after I finished treatment. It was a mess. It was so fresh and I was still so traumatized. I’ve worked 11 years to make that mess into a comedy. That’s how I deal with things. I use humor. For years I didn’t talk about having cancer because I hated making people feel uncomfortable or having people feel sorry for me. Now, I talk about it all the time. A lot of my friends kind of abandoned me through the process because it’s just a bummer when a 20-year-old has cancer. A lot of people couldn’t deal with it. I don’t want medical issues to have a stigma or sadness attached to it. I think now I can talk about it in a way that is matter of fact and hopefully will help other people to not run from friends who are dealing with illness.

The freak show idea came about because I think the hardest part for me dealing with my specific illnesses is that they were always bizarre. Doctors had “never seen anything like it” almost every time something happened to me. I have always felt like a freak, even though I look normal to most people. The message of this show is, we are all freaks, even if you can’t always tell at first glance.

How did you meet and collaborate with Caitlin and what was the main strategy to make something so serious so funny?
I met Caitlin in a one-person show class that Becky Drysdale taught in New York City. I already knew I wanted my show to be a freak show, but Caitlin was still trying to find her material. I remember thinking she was the most offbeat comic I ever met. She was so positive and sweet. I would have described her as a sprite of a woman at the time. A couple of years later she was diagnosed with the BRCA gene and she had a docu-series that followed her process of having a preventative double mastectomy. I have a stand-up joke that I hate when people call me brave for having cancer; I didn’t choose to have it. Caitlin chose to confront cancer before it could take her life. I think that’s insanely brave. I don’t think I could have made that choice.

Caitlin has toured around the world speaking about her experience with BRCA, and since she’s a comedian she made it naturally funny. She is a great storyteller. Her smile is infectious and she never puts anyone down to make the joke. When she was here for Hell Yes Fest last year and we were hanging out I convinced her to put together her stories about the experience and make it a show. This is the first time she will be performing it as a full one-person show. We are hoping we’ll be able to bring this to other theaters around the country.

Bunny Love’s top 5 (or so) influences to prep for “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie”

Killing of a Lesbian Bookie

Bunny Love as Triple Lexxx. (Photo by Edward Simon)

WHAT: “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” written and directed by Jim Fitzmorris and starring Bunny Love, Justin Welborn and Kimberly Kaye
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday (June 30-July 2), 8 p.m.; Sunday (July 3), 6 p.m.
WHERE: The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
MORE INFO: Click here

To say that Bunny Love is a woman under the influence in Jim Fitzmorris’ “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” which concludes its two-weekend run starting Thursday (July 30) at The Theatre at St. Claude, would be a massive understatement. Like the playwright himself, Bunny Love brings myriad influences to a story whose title is lifted from director John Cassavetes’ arthouse noir classic. (I noted as much in my review of the playI noted as much in my review of the play.) To get a sense of this, and how Bunny Love tapped into her own vast background as a burlesque performer, I asked her to share those influences.

“Dracula” was the first play I had done in a while and my introduction to the New Orleans theater scene after moving back here from New York City in 2014. We performed the last two weekends in October — perfect for Halloween. It was a short, intense rehearsal, as I have now learned, the only kind of (Jim) Fitmorris rehearsal. I was thrilled to be doing a play and even more thrilled to be working with Matthew Mickal, Joel Derby, Kimberly Kaye, Trey Lagan and Jim Fitzmorris. I fell madly in love with everyone involved! I’d been hit by a car on Oct. 8 while riding my bike in Audubon Park and broke my left wrist in three pieces. I could have felt sorry for myself and gotten depressed, but this show, with these people, saved me from that. At the end of our run, Jim had a light-bulb moment and realized Kimberly Kaye and I were the two actresses he’d been seeking for his play “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” a play he’d written in early 2013. He’d always had his college buddy, L.A.-based actor Justin Welborn, in mind to play Irish, but couldn’t find the right fit for the two female characters: Triple Lexxx, the burlesque star about to open her own club, and Bookie, her wise-rackin’ “Fake-O tough guy” girlfriend. When I took Jim’s script home and read it, it was like he’d written it for me! I was a little freaked out. Justin and Kimberly (who was living in New York City, but recently moved here) were able to come to New Orleans in November for a reading. Sparks were flying from that first table work. We were titillated with excitement. We decided we would do the show in June. Justin arrived on the night of the 13th, and we went to work. Long, intense, eight-to-nine-hour rehearsals with people I love and admire is pure joy for me! We opened the show on the 23rd. It all came together with “hard work and hustle,” and a lot of theatrical magic. The show is a blast — three damaged human beings looking for redemption, spitfire dialogue, and a twisting plot that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat. I did some very specific work to prepare for this play. Here are some of my inspirations.

John Cassavetes — Filmmaker, actor and just my type of man, intensely sexy and infinitely cool. Like my character, Triple Lexxx, I “love all Cassavetes.” After our initial table work, I had a Cassavetes move marathon. I spent days watching everything: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” “Shadows,” “Faces,” “Husbands,” “Minnie and Moskowitz, “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Gloria,” and “Big Trouble.” I think I missed one or two. Falling in love again with the man and his movies, his “gritty American realism,” and how it related to “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.” Cassavetes presented difficult, flawed characters in disturbing situations delivering clever dialogue one might hear at a cocktail party gone wrong. It was helpful to steep myself in that world. There is a particular feeling in all of Cassavetes’ work, and that feeling is there in “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.” Irish, Lexxx and Bookie, all with their faults and dark secrets in a frightfully tense situation with crisp dialogue that sometimes erupts into shouting. I never met Cassavetes, but I did have a “next best thing” moment when I met Ben Gazzara at a film festival in New York City and had a mini-makeout session as I was putting him into a cab at the end of the night. Yum!

All the movies mentioned in “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” (in addition to Cassavetes) — “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “The Town,” “Frankenstein,” “The Godfather,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Chinatown” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I needed to understand the references to these movies, but I also found a love and appreciation for these beautifully constructed films, most of which I would have thought aren’t really my thing, but found myself riveted. Like Irish and Lexxx, I also love movies, and it was just great to be reminded of that. These films are also full of characters, situations and dialogue that related to life and informs “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie.”

Barbara Stanwick (specifically in “Baby Face”) — this is a wonderful character study of a woman who knows how to use what her momma and daddy gave her to get what she wants. It’s super racy for 1933! She is always in control of herself and her situation — well, until the tragic end. I tried to take on that strength and control. I even stole a few facial expressions and gestures. She’s a woman on her way to the top. She knows what she wants and she will do whatever it takes to get it. She’s scrappy and comes from the wrong side of the tracks, but has groomed herself to hide all that. Triple Lexxx is also all of those things.

Lauren Bacall (specifically in “The Big Sleep”) — She is know for her cool demeanor and unflappable poise. I think Lexxx made a study of her and wanted to be that cool. I studied her posture and her stillness; she hardly ever moves her shoulders. It’s incredible and so powerful, and her hands, her beautiful hands! Another piece of candy from this movie was the way she and Bogart flirted, the cat and mouse, the wordplay. They are the best. We strive for something like that in our play. Finally, it was the love between Bogart and Bacall. You could feel her love for him. I wanted that for Lexxx: a true love. I want the audience to see that in my eyes.

My own life and various burlesque performers, strippers and sex workers I am friends with or have known — One of the first things you do as an actor is look for the connective tissue between yourself and the character. Luckily, I had so much to draw on, not that it’s the same, but that it’s relatable or easily substituted. Of course, there’s my long career in burlesque, but I had also fantasized about opening a burlesque club here, before I moved back, so I already knew what it looked like. I also used pieces of women I know, their lives, their personalities. So many influences, both good and bad, but I don’t want to incriminate anyone so I’ll just give you a few examples: From my BFF, my wife, Bambi the Mermaid, I used her incredible ability to manifest exactly what she wants in life. From Julie Atlas Muz, I got her Detroit toughness. Julie is a lovely, sweet person, but definitely the lady who can take care of herself. From Dirty Martini, I borrowed her undying passion and pure love for burlesque, performing and entertaining.

With “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” Jim Fitzmorris plays all of his angles


Photo by Edward Simon

WHAT: “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” written and directed by Jim Fitzmorris and starring Bunny Love, Justin Welborn and Kimberly Kaye
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday (June 26); Thursday-Sunday (June 30-July 3)
WHERE: The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
MORE INFO: Click here

Jim Fitzmorris wears his influences on his sleeve. Or, in the case of “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie,” on his plays’ title, and on the spare stage of his latest work that opened this weekend at his Theatre at St. Claude. Movie posters of “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” and rows of DVDs from The Criterion Collection fill the stage and prompt snippets of dialogue from the characters, but clearly they’re laid bare as if transported from Fitzmorris’ home, or brain.

So when smooth-talking and wise-cracking beverage vendor (Justin Welborn) shows up on the soft opening of a nightclub venture and starts flirting with the co-owner and featured performer (Bunny Love), their shared of love of ’70s crime films by Cassavetes, Polanski and Coppola, the audience immediately knows that this is Fitzmorris at his most reverential and referential. But almost as immediately, as a flirtation turns to threats and then into terror and then into intrigue and possibly back again, the audience also recognizes another Fitzmorris passion: complexity. It’s the complexity of motivations, of desire and even of language that often motors Fitzmorris’s works, and while they’re often challenging to follow, they’re always worth the ride.

“The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” is an uptempo and bumpy ride in which allegiances switch with every “reveal,” a popular word in a show and with burlesque undertones. (Fitzmorris, also a frequent chronicler of New Orleans’ burlesque scene, knows this as well as he does movies.) As the co-owner of the Triple Lexxx club, Bunny Love can practically live the role, having performed for several years in New York City’s gritty neo-burlesque scene. She returned to New Orleans a couple years ago, bringing her New York sensibilities to shows such as Bella Blue’s “Dirty Dime Peepshow” while increasingly elevating her theater profile. So when she recounts a seedy story of life as a stripper, as with Fitzmorris you almost want to believe it comes from her own experiences. But you can’t dwindle on the thought for very long in this 70-minute one-act play. The action’s too fast.

The play starts off with Lexxxi ready to open her nightclub, for which she’s scrimped and saved to open and make her meal ticket after years in the business, with the help of her lover (played by a twitching Kimberly Kaye). Those plans are compromised by the appearance of Irish, who presents himself as the beverage supplier for the club, and the two strike up a conversation that goes beyond business.

It’s just when Irish senses Lexxxi’s loyalty to her partner has its own motivations that he reveals (at least one of) his own after a frantic phone call from her partner, a part-time bookie who warns Lexxxi that Irish has come to kill her. Hanging up the phone, Lexxxi can only keep her poker face for so long before Irish explains his presence:“Bookie” owes debtors for huge gambling losses built on Lexxxi’s money. But he tries to calm her down with the slightly reassuring thought: “I’m the second-to-the-last person you want to see. … In politics and crime, there’s always a second-to-the-last-guy.” Lexxxi, twisting around their previous flirting, responds, “You watch too many movies … so you’re Tom Hagen (of ‘The Godfather’ fame)?”

Irish offers a proposal — more a less-worse option — in which Lexxxi signs the club over to him so he can gain control of it (and Lexxxi) to help pay off the debt as long as Bookie disappears.

A tight cast makes great work of a tight though sometimes dense script, with Justin Welborn (FX’s “Justified”) bringing a pitch-perfect mix of cynicism, swagger and a sliver of vulnerability to his role. He could either try to dominate the stage as the lone male character or get lost in a lover’s quarrel, but he does neither, and it’s a neat trick. It is only fitting that his character once was an aspiring movie mogul, playing on Welborn’s own movie experience. And Kaye’s nervous intensity crackles throughout the show, even at times drawing in the audience’s sympathy with her own vulnerability. Through her desperation we still see another soul trying hard, like the others, not to be lost. If they all need a few moments in the early going to get their footing with the script, they all hit their stride quickly enough.

They do this just in time for a cleverly conceived passage in which exposition is revealed in a three-way dialogue between them, told partly in present time and also in flashback, with each character alternating in filling in the holes. It’s all wordplay as gunplay, of which there’s plenty already.

So much about “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” is about control, which makes it that much more interesting when Lexxxi explains why she favors burlesque over stripping: “Because it gives the illusion that the audience is in control … the only decisions are mine.” Once every character has explained their angle in this love triangle, it’s Lexxxi’s call.

Jim Fitzmorris bills the play as his first full-length piece since “A Truckload of Ink,” which he followed up with such works as his brilliant manifesto-monologue, “Be a New Orleanian.” He’s found a home for his works at The Theatre at St. Claude, with an intimate space that David Raphel makes great use of in his set design. Su Gonzcy works the lighting deftly in what amounts to two adjoining rooms, and Dana Marie Embree’s costumes blur the lines between the ’70s and the present day.

And yet, watching this compressed treat, I can’t help but wonder if “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” could be something a little grander — like, say, a burlesque musical where Lexxxi’s dreams of a fabulous nightclub come to life, with music and dance numbers as eloquent as Fitzmorris’ rapid-fire dialogues and monologues. That’s not so much a criticism as a wish. This work is already more fully realized in narrative structure and prose than its casual inspiration, John Cassavetes’ 1976 arthouse noir, “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” As good as this play is, you sense the possibilities of something even grander.

I guess that’s the point of burlesque: Always leave the audience wanting more.

With “Piety,” Michael Cerveris finds his way home to New Orleans

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Michael Cerveris and friends perform “Piety”
Friday, April 29, 8 p.m.
The Theatre at St. Claude
Tickets: $20

When Michael Cerveris went into the studio to create the 2004 album, “Dog Eared,” he did so with what felt like a who’s who of ’90s rockers, including members of Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, Guided by Voices and Teenage Fanclub along for the ride. Twelve years on, Cerveris — once again taking a break from what has become a stellar Broadway career — is back with another moving collaborative effort.

But this time, the all-stars are from New Orleans, which Cerveris increasingly has embraced as his home even while continuing his Tony Award-winning work in “Fun Home.” The result is “Piety,” which features contributions from several of the New Orleans musicians who helped collaborate on the Katrina musical-in-progress “Nine Lives.”

When he made “Dog Eared,” he recalled, songs were recorded as musicians were available, “making this sonic house where all these people came to hang out.

“This is the New Orleans version of the same thing,” Cerveris said of the album, which includes such “Nine Lives” collaborators as Shamarr Allen, Paul Sanchez and Alex McMurray. “It’s true of how I like to work in theater, too. I sit and write songs in my apartment or house, and then record something, and my ideas only get me so far. I like handing it over to people and say, ‘Here’s the core, and respond to it in terms of what you hear. Play me what you hear when I play this for you.’

“I’m always excited to hear that (result), and that might spark an idea with me.”

Cerveris recently announced that he will reunite with many of the musicians for a live performance April 29 at The Theatre at St. Claude, co-owned by another “Nine Lives” collaborator, playwright Jim Fitzmorris. Expected to re-join Cerveris: Anders Osborne, Mia Borders, Paul Sanchez, Shamarr Allen, Alex McMurray, Rod Hodges (the Iguanas), Linzay Young (Red Stick Ramblers) and old friend Kimberly Kaye, who also performs with Cerveris in their Americana band Loose Cattle. (She also worked on the latest script for “Nine Lives.”)

(Read more: Michael Cerveris at the Broadway @ NOCCA series)

“Piety” is an evocative, ruminative work that, not unlike “Dog Eared,” feels like a departure from the rock ’n’ roll creations that helped make Cerveris a rising musical-theater, whether in “Tommy” or “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Instead, we hear echoes of Louisiana folklore in “Evangeline,” an eight-minute, acoustic opus flush with fiddle, banjo and even accordion that seem to float on air as Cerveris recalls Longfellow’s famed poem:

Knew so little when she learned of heartache /
Looking for him by another name /
All the ones that never were her Gabriel /
Making sure she never was the same

There’s also the restless spirit in “Crescent” and the closing “Phoenix,” a song of rebirth that can’t help but make one think of Hurricane Katrina even when it’s never explicitly mentioned, with former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason underscoring the closing words, “Wise up / Rise up / Rise and shine.”

The subtle stars of “Piety” might be the backing female vocals. With Cerveris content to underplay his own vocals, practically breathing his lines at times, a chorus rises underneath him, led by Kimberly Kaye and Kendall Meade and including “The Gospel Queens”: Edna M. Johnson, Bobbie Grant and Judy Gibbs.

Cerveris says he struggled at first to put a label on the musical style he was going for here, starting with the term chamber folk, “but that didn’t work.” Instead, he said, imagine “If Nick Drake and Elliott Smith made a record down South, this is what it would be.”

(Read more: John Swenson’s review of “Piety” for OffBeat)

If anything, as the title might suggest, “Piety” feels like an elegy to Piety Street Recording and its owner, Mark Bingham — the album’s legendary producer.

It’s also where they recorded the music for “Nine Lives,” and where Bingham prodded him for original material that he might have for a solo record. From there, the collaboration, years in the making, progressed. At that point, Cerveris noted, there was no inkling that Piety might close, which it since has — leaving behind a legacy of great recordings.

“I’ve been in some other great studios, but there are very few studios that had the soul that Piety Street did,” Cerveris said. “It seemed like a magical place from the time I got there. Mark spent equal time making sure the food was proceeding well on the stove at the same time that stuff was going down on tape. I found that significant and meaningful.

“I just love the place so much and wanted the album to be a footnote in the history of the place.”

He expressed the same love for Bingham behind the sound board: “He’s pretty ego-less as a producer. He’s more interested in the music than putting his own stamp on it. He really listens. He’ll offer his opinion, but also will listen to yours.”

While it was years in the making, “Piety” in Cerveris’ mind seems to have arrived at the right time. When he started making the record, he noted, he wasn’t as invested in his new home like he is these days. Now he owns a home in Treme and practically commutes from New York City whenever he can find a break from “Fun Home.

“My commit to the place is more solid and evident to people,” he said. “It’s being received as the New Orleans record that it is even though it’s not a traditional New Orleans record, but it’s representative of a broad vision of the city and the music scene, and certainly includes so many people from the music scene.”

“Be a New Orleanian” remount helps Jim Fitzmorris put a fuzzy idea in sharper focus


Be New Orleanian: A Swearing In Ceremony” (presented by Dirty Coast)
Written and performed by Jim Fitzmorris, directed by Mike Harkins
8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 6 p.m. Sun., through March 6
The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
Tickets $20; call (504) 638-6326 or visit the website

NOTE: The final performance is 6 p.m. Sunday, March 6.

It’s only fitting that Jim Fitzmorris’ brilliant “Be a New Orleanian” one-man show now comes in booklet form, courtesy Dirty Coast. After all, Fitzmorris’ treatise on what makes one a citizen of the Big Easy — especially in the post-Katrina world of “New New Orleans” — is an instructional manual as much as it is a manifesto.

But it’s also because of Fitzmorris himself. Arguably the city’s most important playwright expounding on the city itself, Fitzmorris as both writer and performer comes at his audience with machine-gun ferocity, spitting out paragraphs of parables. In verbal form, at times they feel almost free of punctuation. He knows how to pack a lot of insight, humor and reflection in his one-hour show currently enjoying a remount at his new Theatre at St. Claude space (the old Marigny Theatre) behind the AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue.

He premiered the piece in time for the 10-year anniversary of Katrina last August, which was fitting for many and garnered great reviews from NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s Ted Mahne and Gambit’s Tyler Gillespie. As someone who’d already burned out of both reading and creating 10th anniversary stories (and already filled with anxieties that a couple weeks later came home to roost), I’d consciously avoided anything with a whiff of the flood, and while I felt a twinge of regret at the time, I’d argue that now is an even better time to see this show. The show crystallizes every conflicting emotion about living in New Orleans … and, in my case, returning to New Orleans, for better and worse.

New Orleans now enters its even more uncertain post-post-Katrina period, one in which the recovery money and tax incentives are starting to dwindle, the media’s packed up its vans, and legacy of a Bobby Jindal governorship suggests a looming recession. If you want stormy weather, the city might be heading into it once again, and so Fitzmorris’ perspective is needed more than ever.

As other reviewers have astutely pointed out, Fitzmorris, despite possessing a razor-sharp wit, often has a bark worse than his bite. He can be pointed in his criticism and blunt in his tone, but “Be a New Orleanian” (subtitled “A Swearing In Ceremony”) is as much a love letter to his hometown as it is a cautionary to those who think they “get” the city but don’t, and maybe never will. Maybe that’s because Fitzmorris, like many, have tired of the vitriol aimed at the carpetbaggers and gentrifiers and going-native types who have flooded the city since the flood. In a city filled with so much love, why hate?

It’s cleverly structured around six basic tips, starting with the most timely in which he clearly distinguishes between the actual New Orleans and “N’Awlins,” with all its post-K perils, and divided into two suburbs: “Sadsaxophoneville” and “Spookyvoodooland.” The former suburb is what hit me right in the gut and the funny bone:

This is the place that provides generic N’Awlins background music for NPR. It is a particular favorite for the sort of people who consider Ira Glass, Terry Gross and Garrison Keillor as their holy trinity. When you step into Sadsaxophoneland, you will see an old saxophone player under a street lamp playing a soulful tune and occasionally stopping to say even more soulful things like … ‘Once you get inside N’Awlins, N’Awlins gets inside of you.”

Then there’s Spookyvoodland, which is just as rife with cliché:

Spookyvoodland has Congo Drums, and Skeleton Keys, and Angel Hearts, and moon glowed cities of the dead, and endless nights, and fortune tellers, and psychics whose gifts have driven them so mad they choose to help honeymooners from Scranton, Pennsylvania rather than play the stock market … Spookyvoodooland is filled with anyone who has ever sharpened their teeth and gone looking for a front row seat for the 15-round battle between the top-hatted Papa Laba and The Lou Garou in a loser-leave-town match.”

For sure, “Be a New Orleanian” suggests at times a New Orleans culture — however defined — under siege, and some of Fitzmorris’ anecdotes ring true to the teller. He delivers them on a spare stage, often getting up from behind his table (surrounded by New Orleans trinkets and iconography) to tell his stories. In pointing out the “New Orleans Linger,” he conjures the story of a Dorignac’s cashier who takes her sweet time ringing up two polar-opposite customers. One’s an aging, sweet-natured local who’s happier to chat than get through the line, and the one (behind her) is an impatient hipster rolling his eyes at the pair’s extended exchange. The cashier sizes up the temperament of both, and takes her sweet time checking out both customers — one out of love, the other out of spite.

“(I)f you take the linger out of New Orleans, you take its smile along with it,” he says. “And you turn us into a version of Atlanta with better food and more mosquitos.”

As someone who lived for seven years in Atlanta after moving from New Orleans, only to return a couple years ago, I felt that familiar twinge of defensiveness about living in the Crescent City’s favorite rival city and punching bag. The Atlanta I came to know and ultimately appreciate is a little better than perceived from a distance, but, really, its only crime was not being New Orleans. Whether driving around the city or interviewing New Orleans authors I’d coaxed to the Decatur Book Festival, I’d kept near me that sliver of a bumper sticker that read, “Be a New Orleanian. Wherever You Are.” For seven years, I knew what it means to miss New Orleans.

But the return to the city, despite years of visits back with friends and family and familiar and new spots, felt like a crash landing and at times felt like a strange new world all over again. I wondered, for a second time, if I had any right to call myself a New Orleanian. It reminded me of a commentary I’d penned for Gambit (Weekly, thank you) when I was the managing editor after Katrina, titled “So Long … For Now.” Among other things, I pondered what effect staying to help rebuild the city would affect us as others left, not realizing at the time I would fit in both categories:

I’ve often thought about how, because of New Orleans’ sometimes provincial nature — where natives are polite but sometimes leery of transplants — non-natives have to qualify for special pins to mark the time they’ve put in here. You know, like Alcoholics Anonymous members. Now, I fear another caste system is already developing. Those who stayed through the storms will be the proudest, followed by those who returned within days, then within weeks, and then months. And we will all revel in our pride for being the brave frontier folk who stayed to fight the good fight, to rebuild the city. And then, when our friends return, when the city is in better shape — when the stink blows away, the debris clears up, the services return to normal, even homes become inhabitable — we’ll resent them.”

But in “Be a New Orleanian,” Fitzmorris takes complex emotions like these and remains gleefully positive. His basic point: If you come here and try to make New Orleans a better place without taking away that which makes it unique, you will fit in just fine.

The show ends with the suggested swearing-in ceremony. I’d planned not to participate, partly out of a critic’s objectivity, partly out of desire not to seem presumptuous or pretentious. But as everybody else in the audience rose, I couldn’t help but join in the fun.

Now it’s official. The bumper sticker is now a book, and a way of life. Thanks, Jim.

The Theatre at St. Claude releases 2016 spring-summer season schedule

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The Theatre at St. Claude, the new theater launched by brothers Jim and Ryan Fitzmorris, announced a diverse lineup of shows for its spring and summer season for 2016 in a party held at the venue on St. Claude Avenue.

“It is one that lives up to its mission statement of presenting plays that revel in the whisper of conspiracy, delight in a collective gasp, and enjoy a taste for the curious oddity,” the theater said in a press release. “We hope you agree that this collection of new works, challenging plays and alternative programming proves we are New Orleans’ premiere venue for the wild, weird, and wondrous.”

In addition to the regular schedule, the theater also will host other shows such as Southern Rep’s 6×6, 3×3, and Pat Bourgeois’ “Debauchery.”

Below is the complete schedule with descriptions provided by the theater:

  1. “Be A New Orleanian: A Swearing in Ceremony (Presented By Dirty Coast)” by Jim Fitzmorris (Thursday through Saturday, from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28 with a bonus show on Monday, Feb 29.)
  2. Irish Voices including Samuel Beckett’s “Not I” (Thursday through Saturday, from March 10 through March 19.)
  3. Tennessee Williams Fest
  4. Jazz Fest
  5. Strange For Hire Presents “Sideshow and Tell” (Friday through Sunday, from May 13 through May 15.)
  6. “Would Jesus Thank God It’s Friday” by Paul Oswell (Friday through Sunday, from May 27 through May 29.)
  7. “Barker’s Edge of Town” by Bradley Warshauer and “The New Wave” by Stephanie Garrison Warshauer (Thursday through Saturday, from June 10 through June 19.)
  8. “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” by Jim Fitzmorris (Thursday through Saturday, from June 23 through July 9.)
  9. Halloween in July (Thursday through Saturday, from July 14 through July 16.)
  10. “Niagara Falls” by Justin Maxwell (Thursday through Saturday, from July 21 through Aug. 6.)
  11. “On the Verge” by Eric Overmyer (Thursday through Saturday, from Aug 11 through Aug 27.)

“Be A New Orleanian: A Swearing in Ceremony (Presented By Dirty Coast)” by Jim Fitzmorris: Just in time to help with those post-Mardi Gras blues, the hit monologue returns for a month-long run.

“Be A New Orleanian” is a wild, comic ride through what it takes to call yourself a citizen of the Crescent City. History, heartbreak, and celebration are all part of an evening from a performer/writer The Times-Picayune calls “electric.”

Thursday through Saturday, from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28 with a bonus show on Monday Feb 29.

Opening night to feature a book signing party of “Be A New Orleanian” from Dirty Coast.

Irish Voices including Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”: It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without a few tales of melancholy, blarney and ebullience. Works of Samuel Beckett and W. B. Yeats are included in this evening of monologues featuring Kathleen McManus, Margeaux Fanning, and Blaise Lanigan.

Thursday through Saturday, from March 10 through March 19.

Tennessee Williams Fest: We will soon be announcing a series of theatrical events, ranging from the serious to the uproarious to the outright risqué, all in celebration of arguably America’s greatest playwright.

March/April: Check for dates.

Jazz Fest: “Chapter:SOUL “presents two weekends worth of after-hours musical programming guaranteed to blow the roof off and knock you through the back wall.

April/May: Check for dates.

Strange For Hire Presents “Sideshow and Tell”: Coney Island veterans Donny Vomit and Frankie Sin introduce New Orleans to their own unique version of the strange and wondrous with a full evening of acts, stories, and sexy turns.

Friday through Sunday, from May 13th through May 15th.

“Would Jesus Thank God It’s Friday” by Paul Oswell: A freelance journalist and sometime comedian, Paul Oswell brings his latest theatrical offering to The Theatre at St. Claude.

Born in the UK, Oswell has lived in New Orleans since 2010 and currently hosts two weekly comedy shows: Local Uproar and Night Church. He has written and performed several one-man shows which were featured in the New Orleans Fringe Festival, including “An Englishman in New Orleans”, “A Britsummer Night’s Dream”, “This Rhyme It’s Personal” and “Narrowing My Horizons”.

Friday through Sunday, from May 27 through May 29.

“Barker’s Edge of Town” by Bradley Warshauer and “The New Wave” by Stephanie Garrison Warshauer: Bradley and Steph Warshauer will take audiences to the shadowy tip of nowhere with a double feature of original plays set in worlds unlike our own but strangely familiar.

Thursday through Saturday, from June 10 through June 19.

“The Killing of A Lesbian Bookie” by Jim Fitzmorris: On the eve of her nightclub’s opening, burlesque dancer Triple Lexxx receives a visit from a stranger who is more than he first appears. His arrival jeopardizes her relationship, her career, and…maybe her life. Jim Fitzmorris’ “The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie” takes place in a world where romance and commitment are nothing more than the flip side of violence and vengeance.

Starring Lin Gathright, Justin Welborn and Kimberly Kaye.

Thursday through Saturday, from June 23 through July 9.

Halloween in July: Why should Christmas have all the fun? Pandora Gastelum and Jim Fitzmorris will ask the interactive question, “Is There A Good Movie Buried Inside Halloween III?”

And if that doesn’t pique your interest, then just join us for the “Halloween in July” party on July 16.

Thursday through Saturday, from July 14 through July 16.

“Niagara Falls” by Justin Maxwell: One of New Orleans’ leading playwrights, Justin Maxwell (“An Outopia For Pigeons”) takes us down a waterfall of language with his world premiere “Niagara Falls”. Though set in upstate New York, this tale of ghosts, political corruption, and deep longing will undoubtably resonate with New Orleans viewers.

As an added bonus, the three week run will include readings of Maxwell’s shorter works and a panel discussion on the state of playwriting in New Orleans.

Thursday through Saturday, from July 21 through Aug. 6.

“On the Verge” by Eric Overmyer: Our spring/summer season ends with one of the most popular language plays of all time. Eric Overmyer’s delightful delirium of words is about three female Victorian explorers who make their way into the mysterious Terra Incognito. Overcoming great obstacles, they leap forward through space and time into a world full of yearning and possibilities.

Co-produced with Rebecca Frank’s In Good Company, “On The Verge: The Geography of Yearning” will be directed by Frank.

Thursday through Saturday, from Aug. 11 through Aug. 27.

Interview with David Simon and Eric Overmyer – Treme from Peabody Awards on Vimeo.