nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
August 1, 2006
Fleeing Katrina, co-written by Hurricane Katrina evacuee Rob Florence and directed by Mary Lee Kellerman, is more than just seven monologues taken from actual accounts of Katrina survivors, yet it is also not quite a play. What is certain though, is that this is an engaging, heartfelt, and at times quite powerful piece of theatre.
Fleeing Katrina begins with a small movie screen on a tripod at center stage showing a photograph of the eye of the storm, This first image gives way to an evocative series of slides depicting the horrific and now familiar scenes of people standing on roofs next to handwritten cries of "S.O.S," elderly people and young children being rescued through flooded streets, and several well-placed photographs of President Bush flying down to New Orleans wearing his best grim expression. A recording of Aaron Neville in the background singing"Louisiana 1927" compliments this opening montage, which sets the tone for the moving evening that follows.
Though some of the writing and performances are stronger than others, good things can be said about all the pieces, thanks in large part to the gentle guidance and confident vision of Kellerman, whose lighting and sound choices also give the entire show a lovely, cohesive feel. Lindy Rogers, who performs in the heart-tugging piece "Stolen Crayons," is one of the standouts in the evening. While in a hospital gown waiting to hear about the status of her newborn baby, Rogers describes the post-apocalyptic-like journey her character experienced while trying to make her way out of New Orleans alive. Rogers's delivery is so natural, so in the present, so simple, that you almost believe you are watching the actual person who just went through this catastrophic experience, as opposed to an actor.
Another highlight is Rudy Rasmussen in "Here's Rudy," a hilarious piece which he also wrote about his own Katrina ordeal. Imagine hearing about an Al Gore encounter, a pit bull, and "the best-dressed refugees on the roof" in practically the same breath, and that only begins to describe the loony path this true-life narrative takes. Additionally, David Wayne Britton exudes charisma and energy in the warm-hearted, "From Congo Square To The Convention Center." "Congo" also features a beautifully wrought Mardi Gras mask created by Alice De Prisco.
Some of the monologues would benefit from a little internal cutting, which would also give the show a tighter, slightly less redundant feel. There also needs to be a more solid ending to the piece, but that will probably be remedied with further development.
It is terribly unfortunate that the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina happened, but Fleeing Katrina reminds us that along with the wreckage and harsh realities the storm left behind there is also hope and humanity to be salvaged. If that's not inspiration for a meaningful piece of theatre, then I don't know what is.