Tempest in the Big Easy

Thursday June 15, 06
by Jacob Mayer, LSU Reveille

(from The Daily Reveille - LSU)

Amid the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the painful rebuilding process, New Orleans has still found a way to laugh.

"Get This Lake Off My House: Our Tempest," a new play presented by the NOLA Project theatre company, depicts and satirizes the recent history of the city of New Orleans from the landfall of Hurricane Katrina through the 2006 mayoral election.

The play, though it has all original content, is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest."

The plot-line and the main characters from "The Tempest" translate easily to Louisiana's modern-day disaster story.

The adapted characters include Mayor Rospero (Prospero in Shakespeare's version), the African-American mayor of storm-battered New Orleans whose daughter, Miranda, falls in love with Ferdinand.

In "Get This Lake Off My House," Ferdinand's character is a young white man whose racist father relocates to Texas after Katrina.

Shakespeare's endearing clown characters from "The Tempest" have adapted into an escaped inmate from Orleans Parish Prison, a police officer who has abandoned his post and a blundering FEMA official.

The show is currently running in New Orleans at Pontchartrian Beach, which sits opposite from the main campus of the University of New Orleans.

The production invites audience members to partake in a truly unique experience.

Instead of sitting in an auditorium, the audience members sit on beach blankets and lawn chairs.

The actors perform on the sand, and the set consists of little more than pieces of debris found after the hurricane.

The show begins at 7 p.m. every evening so that the end of the show coincides with the sunset, which creates an eerie and serene backdrop for the finale.

Although primarily satirical and comical, the play encompasses the audience members, especially the locals, within a flood of emotions and memories of personal experiences.

"They perfectly captured every emotion I experienced before, during and after Katrina," said Lindsey Prevost, a psychology senior.

Prevost said the play's satire and comedy are important healing tools for those affected by Katrina.

Andrew Larimer, writer and director of the production, is a New Orleans native and a theatre senior at New York University.

Before each performance begins, Larimer speaks to the audience.

He explains that the current version of this play is incomplete, and he states that he wants as many people as possible to contribute to the final version.

Larimer and the cast and crew host brief focus groups after each performance in order to let people speak about their own Katrina experiences.

Larimer hopes to incorporate many of the audience members' stories in the final draft of the play.

"There's definitely been some really striking stories," said Larimer. "We've had people who stayed at the Superdome during the storm talk to us about their experiences."

Larimer is pleased with his current draft of the script, but he is looking forward to adding the real-life experiences of others from Louisiana in order to compile a "fleshed out" final draft.

"We've already gotten offers from people in Atlanta and Los Angeles," said Larimer, citing that he and the rest of the NOLA Project hope to take the show on tour next summer so that people in other parts of the country can hear Louisiana's Katrina stories.

Contact Jacob Mayer at jmayer@lsureveille.com