Happily Ever After

Onetime Mardi Gras queen and current avant-garde playwright Lisa D'Amour looks for the sinister side of our fairy tales

"I was 18 or 19," D'Amour remembers. "I had just gone off to college in Jackson, Mississippi, and I had just taken my first women's studies class." As a result, D'Amour was ambivalent about the whole experience, which culminated in the surreal scene of her being presented to a massive hall filled with masked men in tuxedoes. "I did a performance about it recently at [the women's cabaret] Vulva Riot," D'Amour says. "I showed a video of it. People couldn't believe what they were seeing."


Though D'Amour moved back to the Twin Cities four years ago, she has mostly remained a stranger to local stages. "It has taken me awhile to get a play produced here," D'Amour says. Though her decision to move here came from a connection to the Playwrights' Center, which offered her a Jerome Fellowship and where she currently is a core member, Red Death marks her first full-length production in town. In part, this is because her scripts have been traveling back to Louisiana and Austin, Texas, where she attended graduate school, and where she maintains professional relationships. (She still "calls New Orleans home," according to her artist's résumé at the Playwrights' Center.) D'Amour frequently collaborates with an Austin-based director named Katie Pearl, often co-creating a style of theater that D'Amour calls "site-specific performance work."

Playwright Lisa D'Amour, without her 45-foot velvet train
Geoffrey P. Kroll
Playwright Lisa D'Amour, without her 45-foot velvet train

An example would be a piece called SLABBER, a solo performance that has appeared at festivals in Austin and New Orleans (D'Amour has also performed the piece at Red Eye and Intermedia Arts). The performance revolves around a woman with an indeterminate and seemingly terminal illness, though D'Amour and Pearl reconstruct the piece for each new location. They pass out maps and cassette tapes to their audience, who must then track down D'Amour, who waits at an undisclosed spot, seated silently on a chair, swathed in plastic and a faux-leopard skin jacket.

Peal also directed a script by D'Amour called Anna Bella Eema. The play was a collaboration between D'Amour and composer Chris Sidorfsky (Ten Thousand Things will produce a new version later this year), and D'Amour describes it as "a play for three women sitting in chairs." Through a mixture of storytelling and a cappella song, Eema tells of a young girl facing homelessness who builds a friend out of mud. A reviewer for the Austin Chronicle was so struck by a recent production as to write that the play's "beauty and its depth are almost beyond language other than its own." A new production was to have opened at a Lower East Side Manhattan theater a few weeks ago, her first full-length play to appear in New York. The production was, however, interrupted by the World Trade Center tragedy.

"We proceeded as best we could," D'Amour said of the production, "but after a while it became clear that one of the performers was not going to be able to continue." Additionally, the company that was to have produced the play was uncertain about funding: Their fundraising letters had gone out on September 11.

The Twin Cities, at least, will see more of D'Amour in the next year. She is developing a play for the Children's Theater, whose recent projects with such distinctive local artists as Kevin Kling, Michael Sommers, Kari Margolis, and Tony Brown have revealed an unexpected daring. The production follows a short D'Amour script called Dreams of a West Texas Marsupial Girl. "There is always some sort of a creature in my plays," she says. "There's always a little bit of a fairy-tale feel to them, or a children's story."

Such a preference seems fitting to a playwright who traces her interest in writing for the theater back to her own childhood. "I remember putting up a full passion play when I was in second grade," she says. "I had it set up in different places in our backyard, so you had to move from one scene to another"--a dramatic conceit that recalls the peripatetic drama of SLABBER. Though, presumably, the Savior never wears any faux leopard skin.

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