23 Feet In 12 Minutes: The Death And Rebirth Of New Orleans
nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
August 23, 2010
I think I'm just lucky. I am lucky to be in New York this summer, I am lucky to get to see theatre and write about it. I am lucky that during this FringeNYC, I have been so inspired by all the work I have gotten the privilege to review. I am just lucky.
So I am not exaggerating when I say, finish this review, and get yourselves to 23 Feet in 12 Minutes – The Death and Rebirth of New Orleans. This is not a suggestion, it is an order. Because, this docudrama about the survivors of Katrina has been the most moving stage experience I have had since my Universal Robots breakdown of 2009.
I could go into details of the play, how actor Deanna Pacelli weaves in and out of characters, finding the different voices of these survivors of Katrina, five years ago, and how it's told in a straightforward fashion with the use of a prop here, and a scarf there. Except, I can't recall many details, all I remember is the pure emotional power of this piece. A piece so powerful, I didn't take a single note, my pen shaking in my hand, and finally put down when I had to wipe tears from my eyes. This is not just a Fringe play. This play should be sent to every school, seen by as many people as possible, it should be performed on street corners. It should be presented to anyone who dares to watch the news, and say, well, there's nothing I can do.
Because this is not just the story of survivors, these are the stories of six heroes, people who saw their lives completely ransacked by nature, and then continuously raped by looters, the police, and the media. All told by one woman, who becomes every single one of them. It is raw, it is powerful, and it is calling for a transfer, right now. This ladies and gentlemen is what the FringeNYC Festival is about; this is why it exists. This is not just talent to keep an eye on. This story—Jesus, it only happened five years ago. Why did we ever stop talking about this? How could we have failed the people of New Orleans so badly? Why are we still failing them? These are the questions I left this performance with.
I wish I could tell you exactly what happened, and I wish I could remember the names of each character, but I do remember their stories, stories of bodies being tied to trees so they could be found later, stories of young mothers waiting for rescue for so long that they dove into the waters with their children, stories of people who went to build houses after the storm, and stayed, having found a home, stories of a woman getting raped and still finding the courage to survive, break into a bus and drive out of New Orleans picking up other survivors along the way and taking them to salvation. All based on 60 interviews with Katrina survivors.
Writer Mari Brown must have agonized over those 60 interviews to give us the most powerful stories, and to create a real dynamic piece that flows together, and comes full circle. This is heartbreaking dramaturgy, and while I have had my heart tugged at this year at the Fringe, rarely has something just pounded at my chest until it nearly ripped my heart out. This is... I was angry, in tears, amazed by humanity's instinct for good, for bad, and for our ability to forget.
Deanna Pacelli's performance is not flawless. Actually, it's still a little raw, it had opening night stumbles, and sometimes the accents and transitions from one character to the other were not clear. But once rooted in her characters, she is fierce and fearless.
Go see this play. If you do nothing else this week: GET TO IT!