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Blue Bayou: Anne Galjour plays a gallery of eccentrics in 'Mauvais Temps,' her story of a Louisiana community after a hurricane.

Stormy Weather

A powerful one-woman show tells of destruction and transformation

By Rob Pratt

THE RIVER HAS a silent power in Anne Galjour's breathtaking one-woman show, Mauvais Temps. It stinks of oil rigs, fish and marsh grass. It harbors alligators that promise a living to farmers who see dollar signs in the reptiles' red eyes--and which threaten death to children who wander from the levee path. It performs holy sacraments, brackish baptisms for newly birthed babies and all-consuming last rites for those about to die.

In Galjour's story of rough times for a town in the Mississippi River marshes of southern Louisiana, the mighty waterway is only a supporting player. It may heave with a hurricane or roil with a plague of alligators, but in Mauvais Temps, as in any great American epic, the people stand their ground even as forces of nature array themselves against them.

Galjour's characters, three men and three women, are a type increasingly rare in the American imagination--simple, rural folk who scratch a living from manual labor and from harvesting the land, whether fishing, farming or raising livestock.

Part of a larger work titled Alligator Tales, Mauvais Temps opens six years after a hurricane devastated the town and transformed the people. Sherelle Dantin finds herself oddly attracted to cattle farmer Urus Arcenaux, who has returned with new wealth from a stint working on oil rigs. Sherelle's sister Inez fusses over Beau, a mute 6-year-old whom she adopted after the hurricane miraculously deposited the infant boy in Urus' cow pasture. Galjour also plays a scheming real estate speculator and a couple who raise alligators in great silver tanks on the family farm.

Costumed only in a simple calico gown, Galjour evokes each character with body language, facial affectations and vocal pitch. Her characterizations are simple, and she elegantly glides between them, at times playing scenes among three characters. Her delivery is so natural that the switch seems imperceptible, as one character swiftly and silently moves from the spotlight to make way for the other.

With such simple trappings, Galjour's story comes alive in broad strokes of passion and determination and with novelistic detail. The marshes are fertile with "piles of fish heads," and even the night air is pregnant with "love bugs hooked up at the butt in mid-air."

Like her story and her telling, the stage set is simple. A single wooden chair with a seat of weave stands at center stage as the lights come up.

Upstage is a sheer backdrop that shifts with patterns of colored light as Galjour plays out her drama. Jim Cave's lighting design uses the simple screen to vivid effect, suggesting clouds, reedy marshes, a spreading deciduous canopy, a lowering sky or jagged forks of lightning stabbing out of a thunderstorm. Sharon Ott's direction likewise evokes spaciousness with simple movements that are suggestive rather than explicit.

Mauvais Temps is a remarkable piece of theater that echoes timeless epics and rings with new currency. In Galjour's magnificent characters, we see the fabled American archetype: dreamers trying to find their way in the midst of an uncertain land. We also see ourselves--a nation slogging through the muck after a great disaster--and learn that cataclysm can bring peace and hope for the future when family and community stick together.

Part of the Z Festival of New Performance, Anne Galjour's one-woman show, Mauvais Temps, plays through Nov. 10, at 8pm Thursday-Saturday and 7pm Sunday, at Actors' Theatre, 1001 Center, St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15; 425.1003.

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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