Curtain rises on new theater team in Marigny _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- Brothers Ryan, left, and Jim Fitzmorris pause during repair work last Friday at the Marigny Theater.

The Marigny Theatre, in the heart of the trendy St. Claude entertainment district, is under new management and plans to announce its premiere season in August.

Major renovations are being completed, though detail work is still planned.

But tonight, the theater pauses its overhaul to welcome patrons for the already-scheduled “Strays,” an original play by Kate Bailey.

Local playwright, director and producer Jim Fitzmorris and his brother, Ryan Fitzmorris, along with a small group of investors, will manage the 75-seat space in the rear of the AllWays Lounge at St. Claude Avenue and Marigny Street.

“Strays” will run through June 14.

Bailey, an LSU theater graduate, is a second-year MFA candidate in Playwriting at the University of New Orleans. This will be her first full-length play in New Orleans.

“In this piece, we examine how regret can force a group of old friends to cling desperately to each other, the death of their past friend haunting their present,” Bailey said. “Grief and missed opportunities collide in an emotional discovery of how fleeting time is for us all.”

Jen Davis, artistic director of NOspace, will direct the production.

Jim (who reviewed stage productions for The New Orleans Advocate until December) explained that he and his brother “walked the neighborhood” trying to get a sense of whether their venture with the Marigny would be worth their time and effort.

The stretch of St. Claude between Elysian Fields and Franklin avenues, once known as “Furniture Alley,” has, in recent years, experienced a business boom as new restaurants, bars and other enterprises moved into what were once furniture showrooms.

These developments, plus the opening of the Healing Center and the St. Roch Market and the imminent arrival of a new streetcar line, convinced the Fitzmorris brothers that their venture with the Marigny Theater was a viable one.

So far, renovations have included replacement of old floorboards, new carpeting for the backstage area and repairs to a leaky roof and ceiling.

“By the time we get to August, when we’re ready to announce our upcoming season, people who’ve been in here before should feel like they’re in a different place,” Jim said.

The theater will announce a new name later this summer, he said.

In about two months, the space will get newer, more comfortable seats. A flexible seating plan will offer both theater seating and cabaret seating with tables, he said.

In addition to a full slate of productions, the theater will host acting classes and workshops.

Jim himself will conduct the initial acting classes, which he expects to kick off this summer.

Besides stage plays, he also envisions offering standup comedy, cabaret shows and burlesque.

Next up for the theater, after “Strays” closes, is “The Book of Liz” by David and Amy Sedaris. Veteran local actors Margeaux Fanning and Kathryn Talbot will star in the production, slated for the last week of July and first two weeks of August.

There’s some groundwork to be laid before the fall season, the managers said.

“What we’re going to be doing over the next two months is identifying what our audience will be,” Jim said. “I think all theater audiences are coalitions, and you have to figure out who your two or three core audiences are. Are they older adults or younger professionals? Who are the people who are going to be with you from beginning to end? You’ve got to start by catering to them and then expand from there.”

Jim said the theater will showcase locally created works in addition to productions with established track records. He also envisions partnering with the organizers of the faux/real Festival (formerly Fringe Festival) and staging some of their events this fall.

“It’s my hope that there are very few dark days in that theater,” he said.