My husband and I celebrated Mardi Gras a little early last weekend — as part of the audience at the closing performance of Ricky Graham’s 20th anniversary production of “…And the Ball and All.”
When six members of the fictional carnival Krewe of Terpischore get together at a Mid-City bar to plan their annual ball, it’s a hoot, from Frances Trepagnier’s (Becky Allen’s) entrance to the late arrival of Verna LeBlanc (Tracey Collins). And then, in a change of scenery, the merriment (and problems) increase as the krewe attempts to rehearse a show to be given to raise money for the ball. The cash they’d saved has gone missing from the cigar box they stowed it in.
I saw “… And the Ball and All” when it premiered and never forgot one of the lines spoken by
Allen in that performance: “Don’t make me come out there!” She was standing at the screen door, hollering at her kids who were incessantly blowing the horn as they waited for her in the car. What mom among us hasn’t threatened her offspring with that line?
“…And the Ball and All” — along with some of the newer parading krewes specializing in satire — makes you remember that Carnival is more about fun than pageantry. I know, I know, it’s hard work for those who oversee the costumes and ball sets and float decorations and music and need to be sure that the dukes’ horses and the school and military bands get to the parade route on time and that everybody who needs to curtsy knows how.
But that’s Big Stuff, beyond the abilities and means of the members of the Krewe of Terpsichore, who are gathered to plan for perhaps the production of one truck float and a neighborhood party to follow the big parade on the big day. Nevertheless, it’s an example of how deeply the spirit of carnival is embedded across New Orleans’ several cultures, from big Rex to the Mardi Gras Indians, Zulu and ‘tit Rex, the Half-Fast Marching Club and the devoted ladies in Mid-City.
Does any other “party” take so many different shapes and yet bring its citizens so closely together?
I’ll admit to having sometimes felt tired of Mardi Gras during my years on The States-Item and Times Picayune. The buck stopped with me when it came to correctly getting the many balls of the season in those newspapers. There were meetings with captains of prominent krewes to plan the coverage, and despite the fact that I had excellent assistance, I often wished it wouldn’t come around so regularly. Do sportswriters feel that way about the Super Bowl? Probably not.
But 15 years of retirement have refreshed me and so did Ricky Graham’s wonderful play. Like Mardi Gras, this playwright-director-actor is a New Orleans treasure.
Last summer Ricky sent me an email asking that I supply some suggestions for new productions. He probably asked that same favor of everybody who’s on the list of those who’ve bought tickets for his shows. I emailed him some very good ideas, taking off on old movies and plays:
“A Streetcar Named St. Charles”
“Murder on the St. Claude Express”
“Driving Miss Daisy Langenstein”
“Singing in the Drains,” the saga of a S&WB romance
“Meet Me in St. Louis Cathedral”
And — tah dah! — my favorite, “The Wizard of Oznam Inn.” Come to think of it, they’d make terrific themes for carnival parades and balls, too.