In turn of the century New Orleans, prostitution was as much about race and class as it was about sex. Blue Book: A Guide to Storyville, presented by the Mudlark Puppeteers, draws from the infamous “blue books” of Storyville that served as a sort of travel guide to New Orleans’ red light district. The puppeteers incorporate a cast of handmade rod puppets and marionettes to illuminate the social history and sexual appetites documented in the blue books.
One of the primary characters in Blue Book is Lulu White, a shrewd and savvy Storyville madam who was one of the best in the business. White’s story is told through excerpts from the blue books that describe the customs and conventions of prostitution, the variety of houses and services offered, and even detailed accounts of explicit encounters. Rather than relying on a traditional plot or story structure, Blue Book is a series of narrated vignettes brought to life by the theatrical skills of the puppeteers. The puppeteers work in plain sight, but they often disappear into their roles, largely due to their talents as both voice actors and puppet handlers. Between vignettes, intricately detailed shadow puppets and backdrops dance across a white screen to set the stage for the next encounter.
Given the subject matter, it should be no surprise that the puppets get away with things in Blue Book that would be impossible with real actors. But the show isn’t preoccupied with the lascivious content. Blue Book also reveals the institutionalized racism of the whites-only Storyville district, where girls are often valued according to designations like quadroon (one-quarter black) and octoroon (one-eighth black). The show presents an interesting look at a piece of New Orleans history that’s often over-glamorized. There are moments where it has the feel of a textbook history lesson, but at it’s best, Blue Book integrates art, theater, and real-life stories into a production that’s uniquely New Orleans.
Take a closer look at the history behind some of this year's Fringe shows, including Blue Book.
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