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CITY ARTS : Mumbo Gumbo

June 13, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

"Octaroon, quadroon, mulatto, grief! "

So chant actors Mark Broyard and Roger Guenever Smith in their performance-art flavored "Inside the Creole Mafia," an irreverent romp through the insular world of the French-descended, generally light-skinned blacks of New Orleans known as Creoles.

The very American obsession with demarcating clear racial lines--embodied in terms like octaroon, a person with one-eighth black ancestry and therefore legally black in the old South--is at the core of this piece, which takes a biting look at multiracialism that is far different from its politically correct image of the '90s.

"Creole is a culture within a culture," said Broyard, a New Orleans native. "It's a fascinating bit of Americana. The people have a common geography, food, religion. Still, there can be a divisiveness."

That divisiveness takes several forms in "Mafia," including an enactment of the infamous paper-bag test (you pass if your skin is lighter than the bag). But the show does not indict Creoles, embracing the culture even as it skewers.

"We attack pretensions of all kind--light-skinned blacks trying to be African, dark-skinned blacks trying to be passeblanc (passing for white)," said Smith.

In typical deadpan fashion he added: "You might say it is a not-too-dark comedy."


"Inside the Creole Mafia" plays tonight at 6 at Dulan's Restaurant, 4859 Crenshaw Blvd.; (213) 296-3034. $20 includes Creole dinner.

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