On Stage: “The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival”

One of the most popular and well-received productions in this year’s Fringe Festival was The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival, written by Rob Florence and directed by Dann Fink.  Given its success, it was chosen for the Fringe Encores series and was granted an additional block of performances at the Lucille Lortel Theater.  I was able to get to its closing performance on Sunday night.

Despite the seemingly offensive paradox of its title, THKCF is actually a sensitive piece of theatrical docudrama that does right by its subjects.  It treats the victims and the survivors of this disaster with honor and integrity.  A collection of monologues, all true stories told to playwright Florence, the play chronicles the unfolding catastrophe through different perspectives: those who stayed and those who fled, those who were eager to return and those who never looked back, those who hoped for the best and those who were filled with bitter disappointment.

Fink’s cast of five take on multiple identities throughout the show, but they each have one constant they return to.  Maureen Silliman’s is Judy, a quirky older woman who casts her lot with some unusual neighbors.  Philip Hoffman’s is Sheldon, a tour guide who is among the first to understand how quickly and steeply the stakes are rising.  Gary Cowling plays Rodney, the consummate Southern gentleman who is determined to keep his cool while evacuating with his fussy octogenarian parents.  Evander Duck plays the simple-minded Raymond, who has perhaps the most unique assessment of the disaster.  Arguably the heart of the piece is Lizan Mitchell as Antoinette, the bar-owning, shotgun-toting grandma who defends her home, her property, and her granddaughter with a cool determination that just barely sees them through.

The sets and lighting were minimal, leaving appropriate emphasis on the performances.  Florence keeps each of these competing narratives fresh in your mind at all times.  Fink gets polished, honest, and engaging performances out of all of his cast members.  THKCF might be too small to make it to Broadway, but in regional venues–particularly down south–I think this show could have quite a life.

~ T

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