by Peter Haas
From a real-life incident forty-four years ago—an evening arson attack, still unsolved, that destroyed a crowded gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter—writer/composer/lyricist Max Vernon has created an imaginative, powerful, beautifully performed theater piece, The View UpStairs .
Playing at the intimate Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project on Bleecker Street, and presented by Invisible Wall productions, it boasts a superb cast, performing in a single-set recreation of the scruffy bar, complete with working piano and neon liquor signs.
The musical imagines that, in the present time, Wes, a young fashion designer from New York, visits the still-burned out space, with the idea of resurrecting it. From the past, the bar’s regulars return to life around him, recreating the relationships they once enjoyed, and developing new ones. With direction by Scott Ebersold, the stage flows with motion, heightened by Vernon’s songs delineating the characters and their emotions, and further enhanced by dance numbers, choreographed by Al Blackstone, that flow naturally from the characters’ interactions.
The diverse cast is uniformly strong, in their acting, singing and dancing. The brunt of the performing, however, is borne by dynamic Jeremy Pope, as Wes, with another key performance from Taylor Frey as Patrick, who evolves as Wes’s romantic interest. The remainder of the cast is rounded out by Nathan Lee Graham, Frenchie Davis, Benjamin Howes, Michael Longoria, Ben Mayne, Nancy Ticotin and Randy Redd in addition to Richard E. Waits, Anthony Alfaro and April Ortiz.
The show, which will continue downtown through May 21, has had an interesting journey so far. Developed in part at Rhinebeck Writers Retreat and at New York Stage and Film & Vassar at the Powerhouse Theater, it deserves further travel—to an uptown house.
The View Upstairs. Through May 21 at The Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (45 Bleecker Street, between Lafayette and The Bowery). www.TheViewUpStairs.com Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Photos: Kurt Sneddon