St. Mary Majak’s is a creative and performance art space that embodies the unique and mysterious nature of New Orleans. It stands tall and colorful like all the other surrounding homes, but once inside, the space comes alive and you know that you are not in any ordinary house. The night I went to see Thieves Playing Pool, I didn’t expect that Timothy Adams, playwright, could have predicted the political environment that has been consuming our daily lives. Nor did he know how the play would serve as a type of therapy and escape for all those involved–from cast members to audience. For at least one hour, Adams helped me forget the world outside.
As I waited for the play to begin, I grabbed a drink from Josh Stover, who doubles as bartender. Intrigued by the theater seats, I inquired about their origins. Turns out, they were salvaged out of the historic downtown 19th-century ceremonial temple that housed the New Orleans’ Freemasons for approximately 162 years. Known as one of the most secretive societies, I thought of the cloak-and-dagger threads woven together, and the space took on a whole new meaning to me.
The stage for Thieves had minimal furniture and props. A pool table/bar shaped like a check stood in the middle of the room with a stain glass light fixture hanging luminously above. A small table with two chairs were off to the side. The lights dimmed, and the sound of crickets filled the room, literally. Not knowing what the play was about–besides the obvious title–I did have the privilege of talking with the writer, Timothy Adams, before the play began. He described his inspiration as that coming from his favorite director, David Lynch. He originally wrote Thieves Playing Pool as a short film script but quickly saw the beauty of his words on the live stage.
Adams explains, “I think it really works as a play because of that Samuel Beckett feeling. The characters have an awareness of being on stage but they also have an awareness of being characters in a world, and those two awarenesses work against each other to create confusion and chaos. That’s my favorite thing to write about is the interaction between structure and chaos. And live theater is so fun to do that in, particularly because you can structure it as much as you want and something could always happen live that changes it. The way I write gives a lot of room for actors to make it their own.”
As Brooke Volkert, an actor who plays Tom in Thieves says,“This was the hardest script to memorize, act, and do justice.”
The audience can immediately see why those words ring true within moments of the opening monolog by Josh Woo. Adams writing has a Seussian intelligence to the simple words that he strings together to create a matrix of contemplated thoughts. At one point in the play a single word is spoken which stood out and sums up the plot—convoluted.
Josh Woo, Brooke Volkert, Guillermo Valle, and Fouad Zeton bring Adams’ vision to life. They seamlessly deliver the lines as if I was sitting in a corner dive bar observing a bunch of loveable weirdos. They played off each other naturally and even their voices complimented their characters. From director, Chris Givens, to costume designer, Maria Sandhammer, Adams explains that he allowed the script to be interpreted by everyone who contributed to the production. This gave the play an authentic, polished feel.
Thieves Playing Pool left the audience with a lot to contemplate. I’ll leave you with a few lines from the play that I’ve mashed together to give you a preview. “What are you saying?” “I’m saying a lot of things.” “What is there to say then?” “Nothing.”
If you’ve missed opening weekend, that’s ok. You can catch Thieves Playing Pool this weekend and the following weekend at St. Mary Majak’s (918 St. Mary Street) Friday, February 10; Sunday, February 12; Friday, February 17; and Sunday, February 19. All shows start at 8:00 p.m. with doors opening at 7:15 p.m.