Bonnie Gabel explores the landscape of post-apocalyptic New Orleans imagined in a recent performance by Vagabond Inventions.
A Kingdom, A Chasm, a new performance by Vagabond Inventions, is a whimsical window into a post-apocalyptic community. Three characters—Dudley (Cameron-Mitchell Ware), Chauncey (Owen Ever), and Emelda (Lisa Shattuck)—are trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy inside a chaotic world where there are green men in tanks on all corners, helicopters flying overhead, and a roving band of children stealing food. Performed in the still-under-construction Art Klub, Adam Tourek’s sculptural set of fabricated wreckage centers a burned-out car that the performers sleep inside, drink tea on top of, and tumble around.
A Kingdom’s narrative is not linear; instead, the focus is on the relationship between the trio, who are stranded together in the “the ravaged wilderness that was once New Orleans.” The characters themselves echo Lewis Carroll’s Mad Tea Party—Dudley as the literature-quoting Mad Hatter, Chauncey as the wild March Hare, and Emelda as the Dormouse, hidden in a mass of blankets for the first few minutes of the play. But A Kingdom is more than a reiteration of a classic children’s story.
Chronicling the characters’ last tea party together, the work explores how race informs our relationships and how racism continues even in times of collective crisis. The “chasm” could have caused a great leveling of social hierarchies, but Chauncey and Emelda, both white, are clinging to the vestiges of their former privileged lives. They have a sense of superiority over Dudley, who is black. Dudley is made to set up tea for them and Emelda repeatedly calls him by the name of her former servant. Dudley complies, but it is obvious that he is smarter and more resourceful than his companions. He fixes the car so it can play music, keeps the fan running, and navigates the world better than Chauncey.
Chauncey and Emelda cling to the ritual of tea, which seems to serve as a symbol of their genteel past. “Remember when you were a lady?” Chauncey says to Emelda, who refuses to even walk. Dudley, on the other hand, clings to his art, writing poetry and speaking in verse. Ultimately, A Kingdom is a haunting look at how we process our own traumas, and the traumas we inflict on each other. At the end of the play, Dudley holds his bag, finally fed up, and poised to leave—with Chauncey and Emelda begging him to stay.
Vagabond Inventions’ A Kingdom, A Chasm was performed November 10 – 20, 2016, at the Art Klub (1941 Arts Street) in New Orleans.