by Analyn Revilla
The Katrina Comedy Fest is based on the true experiences of 5 separate lives who survived the hurricane of 2005. It’s still a relevant story. Natural disasters and catastrophes, like waves lapping on the beach, erase the tracks of lives imprinted on the sand.
I’ve visited New Orleans twice. The first time was in in 1991 when I got married in a small town called Buras. It’s about an hour south of the Big Easy. On August 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina made its first landfall in the Buras-Triumph district, and the area is still in the process of rebuilding. On my second visit in 2010, I wanted to see the effects of the BP disaster upon the environment and the people. It’s unbelievable to see the ant work it took to watch people and helicopters putting up barriers to keep the oil slick at bay.
I sought out the old fire hall station where I was married by the JP with his deputy as witness. Like my marriage, the white-washed concrete building didn’t withstand the forces of wind and rain. I sought out Camp’s, the restaurant that served big bowls heaped with rice and oyster gumbo. That one had closed too, or the owners decided not to rebuild it after the storm. My memories of Louisiana linger, like the waft of good soul food that beckons. It was at Camp’s where I learned how to eat a crawfish properly as demonstrated by the happy waitress. She took one mini-lobster from the heap on the newspaper and used her thumb and index to flick the head off, and she sucked out the ‘best part’, followed by forcing the meat from the body with the same fingers. This technique ensures “less mess” and allows for continues eating, because there are plenty of hands going into that heap.
The story telling captures the sensitivity, nostalgia and steely guts of survivors in the face of a natural disaster and caught in the web of bureaucratic foibles. The stories of five characters, from different walks of life, belie a spirit of humor and a soul of surrender. New Orleans, historically, has always been at the mercy of nature because of its geography – it sits on the soft silt of the Mississippi River delta, and it opens up to the Gulf of Mexico. This relationship has grown more tenuous with the industrial revolution. The coast of Louisiana and Texas has been identified as dead zone, and is the largest hypoxic zone in the United States (source: Wikipedia.) Last week two explosions erupted in two chemical plants on Thursday and Friday. If the investigation comes up with any likeness to negligence that led to the BP disaster, then this reinforces some themes common woven into the lives of the people.
The Katrina Comedy Fest, refreshingly, does not focus on the politics. The play brings the event to a tangible level that can be digested as a languorous 5 course meal, beginning with the rising waters and ending with sobering shot of reality. It becomes a speculation game as to the strength of “this one” compared to the “last one” when the levees didn’t breach.
The stories are narrated through the voice of …
Raymond, a homeless, begins his story in the stadium. He discovers his “air freshener” ineffective against the heavy stench of bodies locked down. He’s prepared for anything being a homeless.
Antoinette is a savvy and bold owner of “Mother-in-Law Lounge”, and widow of R&B singer Ernie K-Doe. She keeps both her 15 year old granddaughter and a shrine of her late husband afloat during the storm. The statue donned with a sawed-off shotgun keeps away would-be intruders.
Rodney is a sweet southern gentleman shoulders the responsibility of keeping his aging parents plus new comers entertained and alive during the siege of rising waters. He keeps well inebriated with whisky and at the close of the storm realizes he had spent more with his parents than he’s ever done in a long long time.
Judy is a sweet and naïve older woman who meets up with 5 young people. She wanders out in the street of her neighborhood which had already been evacuated. She receives texts from her son, “Get out now!” She meets the pot-smoking youths who takes her with them to San Antonio in her son’s unreliable car. It is a miraculous trip that opens the life of Judy to young attitudes and wider latitudes.
Sonny, a tourist guide, stays a while and ends up in Oklahoma with high-pitched voiced black woman who likes to scream. His cool logic and street-wise experience keeps the situation moving until he is investigated by the FBI, because he’s carrying a big wad of cash in a plastic bag. How else does a person whose business is cash-based supposed to flee the floods of New Orleans?
The Katrina Comedy Fest was written by playwright is Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle. It stars Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe, L. Trey Wilson. It’s showing at the Fountain Theatre this Sunday, July 28 at 7pm. (323) 663-1525 MORE
Analyn Revilla blogs for the LA Female Playwrights Initiative