At the Elm Theatre, ‘You don’t get scared until later’

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Chris Marroy is in 'The Adventures of Buttboy and Tigger,' which opens May 3.

‘ADVENTURES’ IN ONLINE ROMANCE

Garrett Prejean, founder and artistic director of Elm Theatre, likes to produce plays that scare him — edgy, challenging shows that break the proverbial rules. That’s exactly what Elm Theatre is doing with its production of “The Adventures of Buttboy and Tigger,” which opens Friday.

“At first, I had no reservations about doing this play,” Prejean said, while taking a break from rehearsals in Elm’s Warehouse District space, along with his co-star, Chris Marroy, and director, Joe Funari. “You don’t get scared until later.”

The play, ostensibly about a flirtatious online dalliance between the two title characters, is deeper than its title might suggest.

“When you say it out loud, it sounds crazy,” Funari said. “And on your first reading of the play, you’re hit with the sexual content. But it’s about so much more than that. The majority of the play is not sex. It’s just a great play.”

Added Marroy, “I saw the title and I was a little shocked. I said, ‘You want me to play somebody called Buttboy?’ But you delve in and see the real story, and you learn it’s not as surface as you first thought.”

Funari calls the show a raunchy romantic comedy. First and foremost, it’s about relationships.

“It’s kind of voyeuristic,” Marroy said. “You hear about online sex, but you ask yourself, is this part of the culture at large? But more than anything, the show is about finding the genuineness between two people.”

Elm Theatre has been about pushing boundaries since it was founded in 2010, after Prejean relocated from Chicago to New Orleans to be with his wife, who was attending school in the city.

“I was involved in theater in Chicago and wanted to continue that involvement in New Orleans,” Prejean said. “So I started a company to teach and produce shows.”

What he discovered in New Orleans was a theater world that he says is “like the Wild West,” a community in which theater artists have the opportunity to create anything they can imagine.

“There’s tons of talent coming here hungry to tell stories and take risks,” he said.

“People are moving here to do theater. I ask where people come from, and they’ll say Iowa, the Midwest, New York. ‘Why move here?’ I ask. They say, ‘For theater.’ And that’s what we want.”

Funari, who hails from New York and spent years as a working director in that city’s dominant theater scene, compares theater today in New Orleans to Manhattan a few decades ago.

“Anything you want to try is acceptable and there’s much experimentation,” Funari said.

“The theater in New York in the 1970s and 1980s was edgy and alive. Here, now, there’s wonderful experiences everywhere.”

And that idea of theater as edgy and alive led them back to “The Adventures of Buttboy and Tigger.”

“It was hard at first to say what it was really about,” Marroy said.

The challenge was how to sum up the play for potential audiences in just a few words, Marroy said.

“Now I can say: It’s a love story,” Marroy said. “People will have some reservations about it before they see it, but I think people will be pleasantly surprised and absolutely moved and enthralled, just like we were.”

“I want people to leave this show thinking about love,” Prejean said. “When I choose a play, I don’t think about themes. We want to find the love in this story, not beat people over the head with ideas.”

“The Adventures of Buttboy and Tigger” opens Friday and runs until June 8. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at http://www.elmtheatre.org or at Elm Theatre, at 220 Julia St.

Elm also offers a series of acting classes for both beginners and experienced professionals.

For information, call Elm Theatre at (504) 218-0055.