×

N’awlins spices the avant-garde for Gotham

The theater itself, the Bouwerie Lane, is ramshackle and unprepossessing but the play opening there tonight is anything but. It’s Jean Genet’s avant-garde one-act “The Maids,” which is being performed for the first time ever apparently in two separate versions by the newly merged EgoPo/Cocteau ensemble.

But before I get to the show I have to tell you a little about EgoPo, a group that has migrated from New Orleans to make its home in Gotham. “EgoPo” is, appropriately enough, from the French (referring to “the physical self”) and describes a training technique that emphasizes physicality and vocally dynamic performances.

Its offerings in New Orleans included some of the edgier works to be performed there.

The big question facing the Crescent City now is whether and to what extent that town’s artistic and entertainment fabric can be mended –and what it will look like in a town half the size it once was.

Not only has more than half the population not returned (there are still fewer than 200,000 souls there), but there have been staff cuts at most theater, museum and cultural institutions. In addition it’s hard to imagine philanthropic funding for the arts when people’s houses are still being de-molded.

“We all hope New Orleans will get back to functioning as a city, we just don’t know how long it will take,” is how Lane Savadove, the artistic director of EgoPo put it. He most recently was the head of directing at Loyola U in N.O., and founded EgoPo 15 years ago.

His group, which consists of seven players, is to his knowledge the only formal troupe that has pulled up stakes post-Katrina and relocated.

“We needed to make a new commitment artistically rather than just be in a holding pattern.”

Several other theaters back in N.O. have reopened, including the Southern Rep and Tsunami, but because the city is relatively small, any exit is a loss.

“The great thing about artists,” Savadove continues, “is that there’s always great motivation to get back up and running, as important as a newspaper in that respect.”

“The Maids X 2” was originally conceived and performed at EgoPo’s New Orleans Jewel Theater, which was ruined by the hurricane and the water.

The current off-off Broadway version features members of the original cast as well as the previous Jean Cocteau Repertory acting ensemble. Savadove directs Leah Loftin, Alejandra Cejudo and Taylor Wilcox in the more classic female version, and Kevin Smith, J.J. Brennan and Nick Lopez in the harder-edged experimental male staging.

(Each cast has apparently rehearsed separately, only sharing the director, to ensure that the acting and design choices don’t influence each other. Part of the experiment was to find out if changes in actors, and in this case actors’ genders, affected the final product.)

And the two versions, as seen earlier this week, are utterly different, but also eerily similar. (Performances run through April 23.)

“It’s essential for the audience to see both versions side by side,” Savadove says. “By splitting the reality and fantasy in half, the entire evening creates stronger interplay between the two that empowers and clarifies Genet’s original intentions.”

The work was originally inspired by a brutal murder by two unassuming maids of their mistress in 1930s France. Genet focuses on the psychological journey of the two maids, who in his mind simultaneously love and hate their mistress. Play pivots on rapid-fire role reversals, and is alternately comic, grotesque and wrenching.

“As a professor, I was pushing my advanced directing students at Loyola to create based on what was present. I believe that changing the rehearsal space, the objects in the space, the mood in the room, can and should change the final product,” Savadove explains.

The play is definitely not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, between the two different versions performed in New York there is, in tribute to the company’s New Orleans’ roots, Cajun food and drink for theater-goers in a downstairs area. Only major challenge I could see: bringing the intermission time down from an hour to something more reasonable: Otherwise, even with jambalaya, folks will get jumpy.

***

Apparently animators really do “whistle while they work.”

At least that seems to be the case at Greenwich Village-based Curious Pictures, which was recently voted among the top 10 places to work in the Big Apple.

Survey was conducted by the Freelancers Union of 1,000 indie workers. Curious was ranked alongside media giants like MTV, Condé Nast, the BBC, HBO and Time Warner. Not bad for a small firm with 200 employees and $30 million in revenues.

Curious was the only indie company on the list. (MJM Creative, a marketing specialist that was also on the Top 10 list, is owned by the ad conglom WPP.)

So what makes Curious so curiously come-hither?

One of its owners, Richard Winkler, put it this way: “Our philosophy here from day one has been to make money, do great work and have fun.”

According to the poll, most important to freelance workers are accurate and timely payment, easy access to top staff, information and equipment, payment above market rate and a friendly and professional work environment.

Plus, Curious is getting commissions.

Disney, for example, has just picked up the company’s cable series for toddlers, “Little Einsteins,” for a second season.