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23 Feet In 12 Minutes: The Death And Rebirth Of New Orleans (Fringe Festival 2010)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on August 27, 2010

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6 Characters Based On 60 Interviews in 60 Minutes Equals Countless Emotions

Deanna Pacelli is a hero.  Or several of them actually, and also a victim, and often enough some observers.  In 23 Feet in 12 Minutes Deanna puts on many characters and pulls stories from many moving moments as she recounts the events starting with Hurricane Katrina from the eyes of 6 characters drawn from more than 60 accounts of what happened after the storm hit, the water rose, and chaos spread.

What did everyone have in common in New Orleans five years ago?  Well there’s Katrina, but more than that is a tragedy more akin to David Brin’s novel, The Postman, where the real tragedy becomes what happens when society breaks down.  Playwright Mari Brown has done a beautiful job of meshing the stories of many perspectives in a chaotic situation into a cohesive set of story lines that switch off with a pacing so rhythmic and precise so that the intensity of the story can truly be felt by the audience as the speed of transitions between characters ebbs and flows.  David Travis the director is sure to have been expert in helping the writer’s vision become the remarkable reality created by Deanna Pacelli (who by the way was in New Orleans post-Katrina as well).

In 23 Feet in 12 Minutes we see this happen quickly at first as the destruction of the storm takes place, then more slowly but in many ways worse as the normal material of society falls apart when normal rules no longer apply.

When this happens we see two things happen: The first is the opportunity to be criminal, to do wrong upon your fellow human beings.  We see this through the eyes of characters who had been raped, or robbed or killed in fires set by roving bands during those dark times.  We see it in people whose job it is to keep order instead keeping up prisons while someone else figures out what to do.

The second is the opportunity for people to become heroic, to go outside of the normal comfort zone.  This is shown through characters who create calm where it is needed, who right injustices, who build houses and try to organize infrastructure.  Or sometimes, who simply surviving by making things seem normal and human. Little things, like offering a drink to share on their porch  goes a long way.

In both cases we see everyone become superhuman: wearing masks of either the hero, the villain or – as was the case of more than 1800 people – the martyr.

tgtn48sFinally when help began to arrive our heroes’ patience as well as their sanity were severely frayed and often broke as conditions and situations became more than anyone could bear.

But things were dealt with heroically by the people in Mari Brown’s play – overwhelming or not.  As was said by one character, this was his “1825th day of recovery” and rebuilding takes place every day.  As another said, “maybe we should just finish this funeral, throw dirt on the coffin and go on with our lives”.  And at last – by the blues singer who begins and end the show –  ”some day when I’m good and ready I’ll be buried in this city”.  But until then he may as well experience all there is to life.

Thankfully for many people who have been touched by Katrina throughout the 5 years since it swept through so many lives,  23 Feet in 12 Minutes gave some of them an opportunity to put on a new mask: that of the storyteller.

Hope you can all make it to one of the 3 remaining shows so a good catharsis can be had by all.


23 Feet in 12 Minutes: The Death and Rebirth of New Orleans
Word on the Street Productions
Writer: Mari Brown
Director: David Travis

1h 0m
VENUE #11: Players Loft
Fri 27 @ 7:45 Sat 28 @ 3:30 Sun 29 @ 1:15

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