Rob Florence enlarges on the view from the ground. His play offers an inspiring portrait of a community that came together to weather the storm with grace and laughter.
To write “The Katrina Comedy Fest,” Florence wove real-life survivor accounts, a feat that I as a nonfiction writer applaud. When you’re working with true stories, the job of assembling the facts into one coherent, linear story is challenging. Florence accomplishes this with not one, but five individuals, creating a pastiche of characters whose combined experience pays homage to America’s most colorful, benevolent and often ignored city: New Orleans.
“The Katrina Comedy Fest” opens presumably at the renown Mother-in-Law Lounge where the characters take up their individual spaces on the stage to recount the events as they occurred from the moment the storm hit, to the breaching of the levees to their respective displacement from New Orleans. One character unfolds his experience drawing the audience into his journey leaving off where he’ll pick up later while another character imparts his and so on, creating an intermingling that works efficiently in terms of the play’s narrative, but fails to establish a sense of setting. The play seems to want to ground the characters at the Lounge, yet each individual’s story simultaneously takes the audience (without the other characters) to various locales across the country.
The centering character, Antoinette, who owns the Mother-in-Law Lounge, seems the obvious choice for coherence. At the preview, actress Peggy Blow playing Antoinette, vacillated between interacting with the characters on stage as if they were in her club to speaking to the audience, which relocated us to her whereabouts during the actual chaos of Katrina. Although this is a minor hitch that will be resolved during the run of the play, the character Rodney, played by Travis Holder, held this viewer steady throughout.
Holder’s pitch-perfect performance from the use of his ever-present alcoholic refreshment to his frustration with being cooped up with his parents created a vivid sense of place wherever he took us on his journey. Rodney embodied the soul of the New Orleans citizen, loyal to a fault. When asked why he would want to return, his response, which becomes a refrain at the play’s end is delivered with an exquisite mixture of pathos and pride: “Because I am home sick and my home is sick.”
After the recent events of hurricane Sandy and deadly tornado in Oklahoma, theatre-goers may rest assured that although the nature of the “The Katrina Comedy Fest” may connote visions of death and anger, it is just the opposite. You’ll come out of the theatre with a smile on your face from the demonstration of resiliency that each of the characters, in their unique quirkiness, impart with a levity of spirit and honesty of the soul.