nytheatre.com review by Nicole Watson
June 15, 2007
La Boca Theater Company's Evangeline is supposed to be a contemporary adaptation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem of the same name, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. According to the director's notes, the Longfellow poem references the expulsion and migration of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia to Louisiana where they resettled, becoming what we now know of as "Cajuns." The idea behind the play, which was created by the theatre company and directed by Sarah Ashford Hart, was to tell not only the story of the Acadian Evangeline but to parallel that narrative to stories from those who suffered through Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The idea is a good one and it is clear that the theatre company put a lot of time and effort into interviewing hurricane survivors and devising their performance piece. Unfortunately, the piece seems more like a work in progress than a polished one-act play.
In the production, excerpts of the original Longfellow poem are narrated by actors as puppets perform the actual story. The stories of those who were affected by Katrina and Rita are performed by four young women, Michelle Brown, Rajeeyah Finnie, Priscilla Flores, and Cate Weinberg. At the beginning, the piece suggests that it is following the stories of four individuals but at times it seems as if the text actually incorporates stories taken from many survivors and the line between specificity and generalization is unclear.
Furthermore, although the narrative of the poem and the experience of those who suffered through Katrina share the same themes of exile and loss of home, the performance piece does not adequately adapt or bridge the two stories. The story of Evangeline is about a young Acadian woman who is separated from her true love and that idea drives much of the poem, as it was presented. The Katrina narratives detail the awful experience of those who could not leave the city, the ineptness of FEMA and other government agencies, and the need to find a "home" either by returning to New Orleans or starting over somewhere else. In the performance the story lines are quite disconnected so rather than yield a seamless production, the separate narratives interrupt and interfere with one another.
Maya Cuevelo and Alicia Gerstien are extremely busy as the puppeteers. There are numerous scene changes as well as light and sound cues and the overabundance of both slowed down the overall production, which was supposed to be a little over an hour. The show ran 90 minutes.
There is much potential for Evangeline to become a rich, multi-layered performance piece and it is clear that La Boca Theatre Company is heading in the right direction with its emphasis on storytelling and social awareness.