"The Breach" takes on Katrina tragedy
Creating a "big-picture" drama that telescopes individual tragedies of Katrina against a larger backdrop of governmental neglect (or worse) is the tall order Seattle Repertory Theater's "The Breach" sets for itself.
Seattle Times theater critic
"The Breach," plays Tuesdays-Sundays through Feb. 9 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center; $10-$59 (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).
Seattle Rep is hosting an array of discussions, art and photo displays and other events in connection with "The Breach." Details at www.seattlerep.org
"Sometimes surviving a hurricane can make you see the big picture," says a New Orleans survivor of Hurricane Katrina in the Seattle Repertory Theatre production of "The Breach."
Creating a "big-picture" drama that telescopes individual tragedies of Katrina against a larger backdrop of governmental neglect (or worse) is the tall order this play sets for itself.
Alternating between three fictional vignettes set in New Orleans during and after the momentous 2005 hurricane, playwrights Catherine Filloux, Tarell McCraney and Joe Sutton, with director David Esbjornson, conjure some heart-rending images of fear and horror, rage and love, loss and rescue.
They also dare to depart from strict documentary realism at times. In the form of a shimmering, creepily seductive water goddess (a regal, alluring Nike Imoru, smartly costumed by Elizabeth Hope Clancy), the play dives now and again into a pool of myth.
But the three narrative strands of "The Breach" are not created equal. And while heartfelt, the pockets of clunky and didactic dialogue in the script (which debuted in New Orleans in 2007 and is in its second airing here), could use rigorous revision.
The script needs to rise up more consistently to meet the high-reaching level of acting and breathtaking stage pictures the Rep cast and director Esbjornson (who also designed the set) evoke.
The plot thread that is most cohesive, and rife with human interest and suspense, is McCraney's handiwork. It considers three people stranded on a steep rooftop for days — as remembered by one of them (Quan, played by Crystal Fox), years later.
The silent Quan (portrayed as a child by Michelove René Bain), her older brother Severence (Hubert Point-Du Jour) and their granddad Pere Leon (William Hall Jr.) are not idealized victims. They are conflicted relations, trying to care for and comfort one another in a harrowing time.
Hall's irascible Pere Leon browbeats his grandson for reasons never fully explained but powerfully hinted at. The irony is, he finds fault with Severence just as the youth is displaying maturity and courage.
Their long, sweltering wait for help doesn't erase the religious and other rifts between the two men. Yet one aches for them, and pulls for their mutual survival and reconciliation.
A choppier, but also compelling narrative, instigated by Filloux, centers on Mac — played masterfully in a semi-amphibious turn by John Aylward.
A colorful barkeep confined to a wheelchair, Mac manages to escape his drenched home during Katrina. But then he must survive the deep, toxic waters, and resist the fatal siren call of Imoru's slinky goddess.
In a narrow pool of water running the length of the Bagley Wright stage, Aylward's Mac swims, thrashes, sinks, bobs back up for quite a while. And a boater's attempt to rescue him ratchets up the tension in an already thrilling ordeal that pits man against the elements.
The weakest narrative in "The Breach" (constructed by Sutton) places a freelance reporter, Lynch (Michael Braun), in an African-American, flood-ravaged district.
Lynch is sniffing out a rumor that the levees did not accidentally break in the storm but were bombed. But the reporter is so inept, inarticulate and disorganized, Michele Shay's Aunt Sis can't figure out what he wants, and why she should talk to him.
You get her point. After repetitive sparring, the interview results in little more than some pedantic musings about rumor, fact and how the government might as well have bombed New Orleans, for all the help it gave its residents.
Despite the shortcomings of "The Breach" (including some contrived linkage of the hurricane and the Iraq war), this work does reconnect audiences with an ongoing national tragedy the media fully exploited, then abandoned.
Getting Katrina back on America's radar is a stated objective of the playwrights. "The Breach" succeeds — but could do so more effectively with some mending of its own structural flaws.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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