ArtSpot Productions

TURNING OF THE BONES, a play written by Jan Villarrubia, was produced in 2009 by Home: New Orleans? LakeviewS with ArtSpot Productions and The Vestiges Project at Convergence Center for the Arts, 6100 Canal Boulevard, New Orleans, LA.  It was  directed by Ashley Sparks and featured Claudia Baumgarten, Aja Becker, Donald Lewis, Maritza Mercado-Narcisse, Jennifer Pagan,  Angela Papale, Lisa Shattuck and Michael Zarou.

A comedy with original ukulele music, the play addresses the subtle racism that permeates Southern, white, middle class homes employing black domestics. Kate is a white woman besieged with thoughts about Cashmere, an elderly black man who lived in the basement and worked for her Jewish-Catholic family when she was a little girl in 1950s New Orleans. Haunted by flawed memories, fantasies and guilt, she searches for the essence of Cashmere, but learns more about human nature, racism and herself.

HOME, New Orleans?, the community-based, arts-focused network of artists and organizations that brought you LakeviewS: A Sunset Bus Tour in 2007, presented Turning of the Bones, a quirky comedy with music that addresses the subtle racism that permeates Southern, white, middle and upper class homes employing black domestic workers.

Performances were followed by open dialogues hosted each night by a different organization, including:


Turning of the Bones was a project of HOME, New Orleans?, an initiative of the National Performance Network, with funding provided by The Ford Foundation, and was presented by ArtSpot Productions, The VESTIGES Project and the Contemporary Arts Center.  Additional   support was provided by grants from the Princess Grace Foundation and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans, and by a Community Arts Grant made possible by the City of New Orleans as administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans.

ArtSpot Productions is a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation and production of original multidisciplinary performance works for local, national and international presentation.  ArtSpot is supported in part by a Community Arts Grant made possible by the City of New Orleans as administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans, and by grants from the Lupin Foundation, the Buddy Taub Foundation, the Princess Grace Foundation, and from the Louisiana State Arts Council through the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.



Turning of the Bones
“The work is a memory play, and the past is forever in question. Villarrubia has characters object to her text itself, contesting scenes on the grounds they never happened or did not happen in the way they are being portrayed. Cashmere is a harsh critic of the narrative, suspicious that the production itself is an attempt to expiate racial guilt.”
–Dalt Wonk

The Times-Picayune

 Charming play touches the funny bone

Friday, March 20, 2009

“Villarrubia neatly arranges these hazy memories of late 1950s childhood in upper-middle-class New Orleans with dry humor, earnestness and a fondness for family, dealing delicately with the sensitive issue of race relations… you’ll probably be charmed by this elegantly arranged, little memory box of a play…The musical drama is episodic, with vaudeville turns and fourth-wall-breaking narration, minimally and effectively underscored throughout by Chris Edmunds and Rosie Dempre. Ukulele solos are taken by Kate’s mother, Adelia, portrayed by Angela Papale as perpetually pregnant and youthful, strumming songs penned by the playwright’s own mother (“Hound Dog Momma with a Gray-Haired Pony Tail” and “Chicken Pickin’ Poppa.”)…Director Ashley Sparks has created an impressionistic, topsy-turvy world that centers around the dining room table, as so many good New Orleans tales do…Jeff Becker’s black-and-white set effectively creates the dream world of Kate’s home and the recesses of a child’s mind, lit nicely by Dianne Baas. Ellen Macomber designed the striking, postmodern costumes.”

Paul Broussard is a contributing writer to The Times-Picayune.  The complete review can be viewed here:

The Times-Picayune, March 6, 2009

“The 60-Second Interview:  Jan Villarrubia” by Chris Rose

 Excerpts of the interview:      

Citing her bizarre Jewish-Catholic upbringing and her “flawed memories, fantasies and guilt,” Villarrubia takes on the hot-button topic of the day…

 What’s the play about?

It’s about a white woman in mid-life who is obsessed with trying to figure out who this old African-American man was who lived in her basement when she was little, back in the ’50s…

So it’s a searching of the past?

I didn’t know what it was when I started, but it ended up being a journey and it ended up being on racism. And I didn’t expect that.

Race, yes. Lots of folks talking about it these days.

Since Katrina, absolutely. There’s a kind of racism here that’s very subtle, dangerous, very sweet — not an ugly “let’s go kill” thing, but it’s the kind of patronizing “we take care of our black folks” sort of thing…

 Is this autobiographical?

I hate to say that, but it is. There are a lot of stories that are taken from my family history. I didn’t realize until I was much older that most people didn’t have a family like mine. We lived right on Canal Street, and it was always an extended family situation and people always came back and people always visited. It was fun; you never knew who was going to come next. And it was always on the main drag for people going to the graveyard or going to a wake…

Turning of Bones. What does that mean?

There’s a term in Madagascar, “famadihana,” which, translated, means “turning of the bones.” In areas of Madagascar, there is ancestor worship. So they take the bones out of the grave, after anywhere from two to seven years, and they wash the bones and they rewrap the bones and they have an incredible celebration in honor of this ancestor. And then they replace the bones in the ground.

What does that have to do with this play?

That’s what I’m doing with this old black man. I’m turning his bones. I’m trying to celebrate him. He used to say: “My mother was from Madagascar. Very beautiful, with long black hair…”

My mother was an entertainer at home. She used to sing and dance all the time and make up songs on her ukulele. She used to sit on the toilet seat cover and put us all in the bathtub — three sisters — and teach us multiple harmonies while we washed.

And you’ve written some of her songs into the show?


Ukuleles, Madagascar, racism; you’ve got it all in this production.

And it’s funny, too.

Well, how could it not be?

The entire interview with Chris Rose can be read here:


3 Responses to “Turning of the Bones”

  1. hi jan! nice site. i can’t wait to see turning of the bones-
    i didn’t know there was a musical component!
    ukelele by your mother- very compelling.

  2. christen bourgeois Says:

    Hi Jan–not sure if you received my message or not, as it didnt post above. Trying to reach you regarding a student project that’s partially based around Turning of the Bones.

  3. maria Page Says:

    Hi Jan, please call me, Maria Page 232-8983

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