We have written previously about the importance of the right venue. A show can crackle with electricity in one room and fizzle in another. Interact Theatre finds the perfect vibe in The Lab for its production of "Hot Jazz at Da Funky Butt." Rough stone walls, dark corners and a hollow echo make a ghostly atmosphere for a play that takes place largely in the Louisiana State Insane Asylum and conjures the haunts of New Orleans Jazz. Lighting designer Marcus Dilliard finds so many articulate angles and Thomas Sandelands' sound hits with eerie resonance.
Interact's loose scenario glances at the story of how jazz rose up in the New Orleans steam 100 years ago. The upper crust fret over a new and raucous music that sets hips on swivels. The famed voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau (Zena Moses) drifts among the characters -- casting spells and setting the course for what would become America's most distinctively musical idiom.
And driving the pulse is Rue Fiya, a New Orleans jazz group that has collaborated with Interact to produce the piece. Moses, Jeremy Phipps, Thomas West, Dave Strong and Eugene Harding cut through the murky air with improvised licks that become part of the show, and simultaneously comment on the action. In the end, they take over in a party that spills into the audience.
The script, credited to Interact Artistic Director Jeanne Calvit and writer Dario Tangleson, supposes that a storm strands this musical group (Rue Fiya) at the state asylum. There, stories spin out about jazz's early days, and the spirit of "King" Buddy Bolden, often credited as the creator of jazz, is invoked.
Story, though, takes a definite back seat to spectacle and music. Interact's actors are like a sprawling mob of raw emotion. Composer Aaron Gabriel's music expresses a caustic edge in songs about Jim Crow laws and the hypocrisy of churches that segregated worshippers. Singer Ivory Doublette shines as she belts out "Sin in Sin-copation," and Reginald Haney follows with a love ballad. Moses fills the spaces throughout with musical interludes that act as narration.
This is by no means a history lesson that ever reaches coherence. I'm not sure it was intended that way. The whole thing is something of a Brechtian scene -- aware of its presentation, proud of its unkempt spirit and eager to ride the scales of jazz. It's funky and fun.