The Breach, an original play currently premiering at Southern Rep, is subtitled 'a play about Katrina, the Gulf and our nation." Ok, that does leave out the rest of the universe and the deity. Nonetheless, it's sweeping enough to give one hives or at least a bias against the proceedings.
I'm happy to report that the play is more interesting and weirder than the subtitle leads one to expect. The Breach is a tapestry of narratives, which isn't surpising since it was created by three playwrights: Catherine Filloux, Tarrell McCraney and Joe Sutton (none of whom are from the Crescent City).
The production is bold. To begin with, there's a lot of water " an obvious place to start when dealing with a flood. But water is problematic in a theater, so usually the water is symbolic. Here we get real water in a large pond that takes up most of the stage. Jutting out from the water is a slanting roof of exposed wood.
One of the stories in The Breach follows a black family: a grandfather, Pere Leon, his grandson, Severance, and his young granddaughter, Quan. They've fled up to this roof, surrounded by the increasingly polluted flood. Off to one side, the now-grown-up Quan tells us what happened on those fateful three days. Her memories are played out by her family, however, so the device does not become static. On the contrary, it adds a nice touch of variety " if such a phrase can be applied to an apocalyptic disaster.
Lance Nichols (Pere Leon), Kenneth Brown (Severance) and Kesha Bullard (Quan) bring to life this likable, troubled, all-too-human family as they struggle to keep their personal conflicts in check under the most trying of circumstances. Troi Bechet ably captures the intense feelings of her timid, fearful younger self.
A second story concerns Mac (Bob Edes Jr.), a wheechair-bound barkeep. Obviously, a flood poses special problems if your legs don't work. Mac, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, attracts the malevolent, somewhat lubricious attention of Water, a personification also played by Bullard. It's greatly to her credit that she distinguishes clearly and easily between the introverted preadolescent and the dominatrix-like deluge.
In another story, we meet a New York journalist (Sean Patterson) who has come to New Orleans to report on Katrina and draw some conclusions. Or to try to separate fact from fiction. Or to see how white people and black people view this hurricane and past hurricanes " in fact, all of the past and the present " differently.
The journalist, who has the ominous name of Lynch, stops a black woman (Bechet) in the street after he overhears her making some remarks about the levees " remarks that seem to imply the levees were deliberately sabotaged. He wants to hear more, but she doesn't want to talk to him. Reluctantly, she gives him her phone number.
Lynch goes to interview the woman, and at her home, he finds himself confronted by her and three other black people. They all hold candles, so the scene at first appears like some strange ritual " until you remember the electricity is out. The woman and her friends are suspicious of the white journalist. They are touchy and belligerent and can't understand why he is so unwilling to sign on to their version of how things are and were. The group tells him about the 1927 flood, when the levees were blown up on purpose. They tell him about Betsy and the recurrent accusations of an explosion on the levees during that hurricane. Finally, it's left for Lynch and the woman to try to find some grounds for mutual respect, even as they hold on to their radically different points of view.
Although there are some repetitive scenes and segments where the energy lapses (like at the very end), it's gripping theater overall. The credit for this should be spread around. Under Ryan Rilette's direction, the first-rate cast does a first-rate job. Takeshi Kata's set and Bill Liotta's lighting create an aesthetically pleasing disaster zone " as odd as that sounds.
The case of hives I originally attributed to the play's subtitle, I now confess, preceded my knowledge of that subtitle. I was apprehensive about the very idea of yet another work of Katrina art. We've had Katrina documentaries, Katrina photo shows, Katrina essays, Katrina books and a good half-dozen Katrina stage shows. I was glum and resentful as I sat down to watch the familiar horrors of the storm.
But the burst of talent and goodwill at Southern Rep won me over. The Breach surpasses its intentions. It deserves to be seen.
- John B. Barrois
- In The Breach, a reporter (Sean Patterson) digs into the murky depths of New Orleans after Katrina and back in time.