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A CurtainUp Review
By Jenny Sandman
An architect comes to New Orleans to aid in the rebuilding; along the way, she encounters Margaret Mitchell (who died in 1949), Henry Adams (real-life nineteenth-century historian), Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes, beauty pageant contestants, an overbearing Hollywood producer who wants to remake Gone With the Wind, and an irate bartender who objects to having her flood-damaged business torn down. The swirl of ideas touched upon include reconstruction, the Old South, Southernism in general, racism, historical fact vs. literary fiction, the movie business, New Orleans, war, romance, natural disasters, architecture, and sweet tea, set against video footage and clips from the movie.
Times and attitudes change, of course, so, despite the enduring popularity of the movie version of GWTW (1939), the story is now seen as condescending at best and flat-out bigoted at worst. But Margaret Mitchell never meant for her only book to be considered racist or offensive. To her mind it was a eulogy for a civilization and a way of life now inexorably lost—a way of life still fetishized in that part of the world. Indeed, as she once remarked, she was ten before she realized the South lost. She wanted to examine those people who had what she deemed "gumption" and who, against all odds, manage to survive when their world collapsed. Scarlett O'Hara famously survived and prospered when many of those around her succumbed to despair, wounded pride and spiritual starvation.
The survival aspect of the story suddenly seems eerily prescient when dropped into post-Katrina New Orleans. While the spirit of New Orleans survived mostly intact, the city is still struggling, still full of crumbling houses, flood lines, empty lots, and literal and figurative ghosts. Architecting draws subtle connections between the Reconstruction after the Civil War, the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans, and other attempted reconstructions. Another one that leaps most notably to mind is the one going on now in Iraq. To paraphrase Rhett Butler, there is more money to be made in the breaking apart of a civilization than in the building of one.
This is an ambitious play, and its true genius lies in the characters created by the TEAM, a group of theatre artists who bonded as freshmen at NYU many years ago. Their Margaret Mitchell is my favorite character—the stereotypical Atlantan with a sugar-sweet voice hiding a spine of steel.
The Scarlett O'Hara of the first act is mirrored in the second by a 24-year-old Arkansan who is traveling to New Orleans to compete in the "Miss Scarlett O'Hara" pageant (played by the same actress, of course). The historian's appearances are too few and too brief though the actor playing makes a poetic turn as both Mammy and Ashley Wilkes.
For all the clever postmodern interactions, however, the story itself is one act too long. While the first act is full of energy and surprises, the second act falls flat and fails to capitalize on the quiet poetry of the first. The overall momentum sputters to a halt long before the actual ending. The real reason to see this play is to see the TEAM in action. After all, where else can you see men in corsets dancing to "Dixie?"
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
In the Heights
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide