The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival
nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
August 15, 2010
Later this month will mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With the passage of five years, the title of Rob Florence's play might suggest an offering of Katrina-related jokes and sketches to replace the tragedy and feelings of outrage and anger that befell one of America's most intriguing and colorful cities. Instead, The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival is a woven series of monologues of five ordinary New Orleanians in a docudrama style that offers hopeful tales and gentle humor.
The stories are all true, and the play is presented in much the same way as other documentary-style monologue shows that offer different perspectives and voices from a single event or situation. Stories are told mostly chronologically and interweave throughout. The five characters chart their journeys from when they make their decisions to stay or leave New Orleans, through the days and nights stranded in their flooded-out homes, to the end when they are saved (or they save themselves). Along the way, strangers reach out to each other, political and media celebrities are met, and the survivor's spirit leads to quick thinking, and, sometimes, funny situations.
This play marks Florence's third that deals with Hurricane Katrina. Without knowing his other plays, this world premiere is interesting in the direction that Florence chooses to go: he allows only momentary descriptions of the horrifying tragedy, such as the collection of bodies or the danger at the Superdome, and the outrage towards the failure of the government is mostly checked. Instead, he focuses on how his characters get through the situation, which sometimes felt like hearing action movies in miniature.
The actors here—Gary Cowling, Evander Duck, Philip Hoffman, Lizan Mitchell, and Maureen Silliman—are all veteran actor-journeymen and women, and their characters are deftly performed. Four of the five characters choose to stay through the hurricane and flooding, and their stories describe both the "hurricane party feeling" as well as the growing danger before they literally step off their roofs toward safety only to be dumped in chaotic holding areas. Meanwhile, Raymond, the peripatetic older gentleman, seeks haven in other parts of the country, and though he's far from the danger, being far from his city is just as disadvantageous.
Under the assured hand of Dann Fink's elegant and well-paced direction, these stories keep our attention and remind us that the spirit of New Orleans is made up of her buoyant citizens.