One year after Hurricane Katrina struck, the mayor of New Orleans wanted to put on The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Hour. Public outrage stopped it from ever airing, but here is another attempt.
Rob Florence’s The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival directed by Dann Fink gives us a positive story of 5 people who experienced Katrina and made a difference. This difference is either to themselves, to their family, to their neighbors (in the normal sense of people who lived next door as well as the classic Biblical sense of whoever needs help), and to the city itself. Their “comedy” is not making light of what happened, but rather about not being beat by a situation which so many of the people in this play recalled as “post-apocalyptic”.
I say “people” rather than “characters” because all the stories are from 5 distinct people and are 100 % true, free of the biases of media exaggeration or bureaucratic exaggeration.
Comedy, in a Classical sense, is not about making light of something and diminishing it, but rather the Greeks and Romans defined the word “comedy” as stage-plays with happy endings. These plays were often important in forming public opinion and were very important works for learning how to deal with important situations. What situation could be more important to the people of New Orleans than dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
This Festival does not deal with the aftermath by ignoring the terrible things that happened, but rather by taking on the weighty challenge of finding all the Good that was done there, and how people faced the adversity and even the absurdity of the situations at the time with a positive outlook by trying to make the best of a horrible situation.
In this story we have 5 viewpoints, often seeing the same events from different angle, or outlooks. In many ways it is like 5 one-act plays broken apart and mixed and then synced up to the beat of New Orleans’ metamorphosis in reaction to the cataclysm and into its recovery.
There is Antoinette (played by Lizan Mitchell) a grandmother to a “special” grand daughter (who she had raised to be independent and self sufficient). She’s never used that word . . . “special” . . . until she needed it to help get her to granddaughter to safety. Antoinette is also owner of the well known Mother-in-law Bar. During the days, waiting for the national guard to come in and restore order to the city, she uses well organized supplies to help those in need nearby, and her shotgun to fire into air to deter looters of her bar. She also concentrated everything she had in her to be savvy, pleasant, resourceful and otherwise working to keep herself together for her grand daughter’s sake.
There is Judy (played by Maureen Silliman) who is a loving daughter who (being loyal and just wanting to be helpful) cooked up several days food for her father and was getting ready to go across town to wait out the storm with him, when she finds out he has just died. Her nephew is going crazy texting message after message to make sure she is all right and so she goes out in the street to find someone to teach her how to text. The only people there are some strange looking young folks with tattoos and piercings , but she needs help and in the end she shows them a beat up old car that doesn’t quite run and they have a amazing mechanic and Gulf War driver as well as a Wiccan making strange prayers, and they drive out of New Orleans right on the crests of the rising water.
Raymond (played by Evander Duck) was rushed out right away and was given a plane ticket and the choice to go anywhere in the country. He visits some cousins in California and is glad to see them and have these wonderful experiences he wouldn’t have had without Katrina, but also he is glad to get home once he can make his way back. That realization – that someone his age could have something different happen – gives him fresh prospects on living in his twilight years.
There is Sheldon (Philip Hoffman) helping his parents and a wild bunch of people hysterical for help go through the airport of darkness in the middle of the city. It is strange how we can laugh at what makes us cry, but by keeping his head he helps many others.
There is also Rodney (played by Gary Cowling) who, by being well connected and well off, shows us how having resources can help many and move things along. Also it shows how the authorities were suspicious but then helpful as a result of him just knowing how to be prepared. See his humorous interludes with the media and the “criminal element”.
I’d like to encourage anyone I haven’t won over to try and buy their tickets now, because I’m sure the last show this Sunday will sell out. Again to all involved, great job at making a moving and very positive tale of how to see the best in a horrible situation.
The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival
Writer: Rob Florence
Director: Dann Fink