As a native of Louisiana with many family and friends from New Orleans and the surrounding suburbs, I found The Rope in Your Hands instantly intriguing. Written and performed by Siobhan O’Loughlin The Rope in Your Hands follows a plethora of characters (I believe the exact count is 13) that have a connection to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought to the area. Most of the characters lived in the city prior to the storm, however, a few that O’Loughlin follows appeared after the storm to help with the clean up.
The most fascinating thing about this show is that O’Loughlin successfully plays all 13 characters. Each one is distinct and different and there is little to no difficulty deciphering one from the other. She easily slips from an older poor black male living in the ninth ward, to a seven year old girl, to a middle-aged Ohio woman who has lived in the area for 50 years, to a hippie, to a street performer, and so on. What works very well for the play is that one person’s story is everyone's story and she is able to present a real snapshot of what life in the city and the state as a whole was like for the people who returned after such utter devastation.
While many accolades should and are attributed to O’Loughlin’s ability to portray drastically different characters in a relatively short amount of time, equal praise must be given to the show’s director Danielle Skraastad. Keenly staging each individual character in the space grounds both the audience and O’Loughlin to the character’s personality. We see O’Loughlin pick up a stool and hold it a certain way and we instantly know which character she has transformed into. She lays on the ground or kneels or leans against the wall and suddenly she has become someone different. Without the benefit of a set Skraastad adeptly demonstrates that all any play truly needs is a light, a chair, and a story.
From a writing perspective I would have preferred the number of characters to be cut back a bit. As with any play there are characters that you gravitate towards and some you do not, however with The Rope in Your Hands I would have loved the opportunity to spend more time with fewer characters to really follow their journeys before, during, and after the storm. The sheer volume of characters only allows us to see a small part of these characters' lives, but it would have been nice to live with a few for a longer amount of time rather than simply have a glimpse into their lives.
Hurricane Katrina changed the lives of millions of people across the Gulf Coast. For some it forced permanent relocation, for others it meant rebuilding a home that has stood for generations. Those of us not directly impacted have been a part of the rescue and rebuilding efforts, we’ve benefitted from the New Orleanian culture spreading to different parts of the state, but more than anything Katrina united us all in a way we never imagined possible. Six and a half years later we are still struggling to make sense of where we have come from and where we are going. The Rope in Your Hands is just one way that we are continuing to heal. The quote that is in the program states “All anyone around here wants is someone to listen to their stories” (Charles Rose, New Orleans Times-Picayune) and O’Loughlin pays tribute to that in a touching, heartbreaking, and ultimately redeeming way.