The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 natural disaster that devastated much of the American South's Gulf Coast, is still being discussed, debated — and its layers continue to be revealed — four months after the impact. The killer storm's human toll is explored in the world premiere docudrama, Katrina: State of Emergency, officially opening at Chicago's Bailiwick Jan. 8 (after previews from Jan. 6).
Playwright Jeffrey Bruner "has interwoven true stories of despair and destruction in New Orleans with those that illustrate the survival of the human spirit," according Bailiwick Repertory Theatre notes.
Patrick Rybarczyk directs an experience that features six actors and multi-media images. Katrina plays Bailiwick's 90-seat studio.
The cast includes Joshua Atkins, Steve Best, Deanna Boyd, Jason Frydman, Osiris Khepera and Deanna Reed.
Each performance of Katrina will be followed by an audience discussion, and a percentage of proceeds from each performance will be donated to the Emergency Relief Fund of the Southern Arts Foundation (www.southarts.org), which is aiding artists and arts councils of Gulf Coast States. In Katrina, "We meet tourists that tell their story of their five-day hell. We hear from a blogger who chronicled the events from a deserted high rise in the city. And we hear from government officials — both local and national — whose convoluted response and indifference is a pointed contrast with the reality of the situation."
Designs are by Erica Freisen and Dennis Remer, with projections by Mike Tutaj.
Bailiwick artistic director David Zak previously told Playbill.com that Katrina script came to him in the mail, unsolicited. The non-Equity company earned a national reputation in recent years for staging Sin: A Cardinal Deposed, the transcript-driven drama about sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church.
Zak said one of the powerful effects of the Katrina script is that it leaves one feeling that tragedy — and tragic responses — could happen in any city. "It shows how fragile our systems really are," Zak said.
The script is undergoing revisions as more news comes out about government response, death toll and more.
Like Sin: A Cardinal Deposed, the new disaster-spawned work similarly "uses the power of actual events, film and video footage, and words from those who lived through the situation to create a potent work of theatre."
A film and theatre critic for the Des Moines Register, Jeffrey Bruner is co-founder of the Iowa Film Critics Association and a fellow of the USC Annenberg NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Education. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Director Patrick Rybarczyk appeared at Bailiwick Repertory in the original cast of Sin: A Cardinal Deposed, and toured with the show to Boston, Milwaukee and Manchester, NH. At Bailiwick, he has also appeared in End of the World Party, After Dark, Anatomy of Revenge and as Judas Iscariot in Corpus Christi (Jeff Citation & After Dark Award: Ensemble), a co-production with Ulysses Theatre Company, of which he is a co-founding member.
After the opening weekend, regular performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.
In February, performances continue on Thursday at 8 PM, Saturday at 6 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM, to Feb. 19. All performances are $25.
David Zak is artistic director of Bailiwick Rep, Lee Peters is general manager.