Local theater companies Mondo Bizarro and Artspot Productions have collaborated for the third time with Cry You One. A three-hour experience that takes place completely outdoors, Cry You One focuses on the people and cultures of South Louisiana. At times educational, at times operatic, this interactive performance both celebrates the region’s culture and pays attention to the damage done to the coastal wetlands.
Driving out to Cry You One is just the beginning of a long adventure. This isn’t just a play, it’s a day trip.
I parked my car and looked for the ticket window, but instead Dr. Carol Carl walked up — a guide for the Save Our Coast Nature Tour. Her lab coat had the acronym M.O.S.Q.U.I.T.O written across the chest. I was confused, but Dr. Carl explained that the emblem stood for the Mississippi Outlet Scientist Qualitatively United and Tactful Observation. I realized the performance had already begun — Dr. Carl is actually a performer, as are the rest of the tour guides who line up to introduce themselves.
The audience splits into groups, each assigned to a guide/spirit animal to journey through Lower St. Bernard Parish. The goal? To learn about the culture, the land and what’s disappearing from both. I asked writer Joanna Russo more about the concept.
"In some ways we look at this as the third in a trilogy in exploring the relationship of land loss and the oil and gas industry here," Russo said. "And this piece is the most ambitious and site specific of the ones we’ve done yet."
The idea can be traced back to a dream had by Nick Slie, artist director of Mondo Bizarro and performer in Cry You One. He remembers a long parade from New Orleans to Grand Isle.
"It was a big whole processional and there were all these rafts," Slie explained, "and you would pick the band and the raft you wanted to go on and they cut 'em and we left Louisiana, and it was a happy dream, but was really sad for me the next day. An idea was planted for me, it was like, what if we did a procession for the land that’s disappearing? So that’s how it started, it was soundbited as 'let’s do a jazz funeral for the land.'"
Without giving too much away, the Save Our Coast tour is only half of the show. A dreamlike fantasy world weaves through the plot, and cast members switch subtly and seamlessly between two roles. The tour guides' lab coats get traded in for hand-dyed garments, face paint and instruments. The audience follows these spirits through continuous song and dance.
Slie said that the thing to come together in the piece was the music, and most performers learned new instruments. "I’m very new to the fiddle, maybe two and a half years, so I learned so much through this work on that instrument. Fiddling is hard enough, running and fiddling’s a different story!"
There’s little time to rest as you move to keep up with the cast. The story unravels atop the levee overlooking the barren marsh. Hard facts and surreal make believe intertwine. Slie says Coastal experts helped find that balance.
"From day one in the room with us were scientists, culture bearers, artists policymakers, every step along the way — checking in with fishermen, checking in with native plan experts — so that was, that was telling, you know, working with people who work in numbers all day who say, 'hey give me enough facts, you know, so I stay with you, but give me enough fantasy so I go along for a ride.'"
The backdrop of the St. Bernard wetlands alone sustains the energy and beauty of the three-hour-plus production. Monique Verdin is a performer in Cry You One and resident of St. Bernard Parish. She says one goal was just to get people out to that landscape.
"The real beauty of the production is that you’re actually in the central wetlands, and you’re looking at it and you see it, and yeah its really sad because there’s all these dead trees — but then you see an osprey fly by, or a hawk... so that kind of natural experience is profound in and of itself, but then you have attention that’s trying to be brought to something that we don’t have a lot of time to deal with."
Time's running out to see the show. This weekend is your final chance to catch Cry You One.