Katrina Memories Flood In On Stage

The Breach at Southern Rep is Intense and Disturbing

Sunday September 09, 07
by Tricia Danflous, StageClick.com

The Breach is a fine – no, make that remarkable – example of collaborative writing to dramatize a compelling, intense chunk of United States history.

Billed as a play about Katrina, the Gulf and our nation, Southern Rep’s world premier performance of The Breach tracks three storylines, reflecting the impact, the impressions and the consequences of the 2005-devastating storm forever changing the New Orleans area. Non-Louisiana natives Catherne Filloux, Tarell McCraney and Joe Sutton offer up a well-written, tight and word enriched two-act dramatization of Katrina’s effect on a wheel-chair bound bartender representing the average white Orleans Parish resident; a grandfather, his grandson and granddaughter stuck on a roof, depicting the black families who could not or did not evacuate; and a New York reporting questioning rumors and exaggerations of a black community who accuses the powers to be for creating the disaster.

The three story lines stream seamlessly from one segment to the other whether it is as simple as an on-stage costume change from T-shirt to tunic-style dress or the well-tuned and timed lighting moving your attention to the next scene. Artistic Director Ryan Rilette, Managing Director Aimee Hayes and the Artistic Staff of Takeshi Kata, Bill Liotta, Paule LeMasson, Eric Shim, J Hammons, Sara Singleton and Laura Jean Hoffpauir combine technical talents to transform the playwrights’ carefully selected words and scenarios with the intensity and reverence Hurricane Katrina and its victims deserve.

The set is extraordinary clever but uncomplicated, highlighting the gloomy atmosphere of New Orleans after Katrina and the escalating water barriers after the levees broke. A slanted rooftop fills the majority of the stage lined with a channel of water. Actors intermittently enter the water which seems to get deeper as the drama goes on.

The ensemble cast of Lance Nichols, Kenneth Brown, Kesha Bullard, Troi Bechet, Bob Edes Jr. and Sean Patterson provide an interesting mix of talent. Each clearly defines his or her respective roles with voice, movement and expressions.

Lance Nichols as Pere Leon and Kenneth Brown as Severance, his grandson, are riveting as they argue while stranded on their rooftop – just like hundreds of New Orleans families must have done as they waited for assistance day after day. Relatively new to the acting field, Brown is a strong presence on stage among more experienced professionals.

As a New York reporter investigating levee breach rumors, Sean Patterson begins in neutral – as a good journalist should – but slowly elevates his performance to complement the increasing tension and frustration experienced by those affected by Katrina and those observing the aftermath events. Patterson’s early delivery of the question, “how is this happening?” may be one of the most thought-provoking lines in the play. His innocent questioning gradually turns to passionate questioning and possible understanding as his character matures from scene to scene.

I had difficulty hearing a few lines but not sure whether this was due to a rushed delivery, my sinus problems or perhaps a patois unknown to me.

While the script and presentation are compelling and extremely well executed, I found myself flashing back to national news coverage of Katrina and seeing an unbalanced story. What happened to the average, middle class New Orleans families who were stranded, who lost their homes, their jobs and members of their families?

The playwrights from out-of-town spent 18 months interviewing and researching to develop the plot. How they capture situations and perceptions and transform them into a two-hour fine-tuned drama is outstanding. But, in my opinion, the levee breaches impacted more than the black community, the disabled and those who believe the government blew up the levees. There is one line in the play alluding to middle class devastation along the 17th Street Canal levee. But that line is hardly a full sentence.

Perhaps that is the message of this production, especially for the New Orleans audience. Perhaps it’s meant to stir up thoughts, memories, make us judge our own prejudices, beliefs and most of all, our own hurricane story. If that’s the case, it works and should hold a significant place in Katrina’s literary history.

The Woman, forcefully played by Troi Bechet, asks the New York reporter if he is from New Orleans. If you’re not from New Orleans, she says, “then you can’t understand.” The Breach, as its authors seemingly intended, is an example of a small segment of human suffering, emotion and rationale following a disaster of any kind. But for us, it’s a New Orleans story and unless you are from here, you really don’t know.

Back Row Facts

Length of Play: two hours and ten minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Language and Lewd Factor – the f-word is used over and over and over again so much so that it really loses any impact it might have on presenting anger and frustration.

Family fitness - definitely not for kids/ Depending on your personal hurricane story, you may or may not want to see this production. It’s important to see for history and art sake, but if you’re dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of Katrina, wait for another showing in a few years.

It’s a puzzlement! Why is the personification of water portrayed with a Caribbean/Jamaican accent? Hurricanes may pass over Caribbean but the water destroying New Orleans was the Mississippi River – thick, muddy and guttural, not rhythmic and light. The accent distracts from the production.