Co-writer Tim Maddock, who penned the piece with Lotti Louise Pharriss, said the project has been revised since an earlier award-nominated Los Angeles run. Emilie Beck again directs the production, which began May 11 and continues to June 15.
According to Piven notes, "This production focuses on the true story of Tim Maddock who, in response to Hurricane Katrina, traveled to New Orleans and threw himself into the chaos of animal rescue efforts in the wake of the storm. In September of 2005, Tim loaded his car with food, water, clothing and rescue gear, said goodbye to his partner and his dog, and drove straight into the heart of one of the greatest natural disasters in our country's history. During his time in New Orleans, Tim witnessed great human tragedy and stupendous bureaucratic blunders. From the stranded animals somehow able to weather the storm, to the frantic, grief-stricken families searching for the pets they were forced to abandon, the flood of emotion was a constant reminder of the failures of a city, a state, and a nation to respond when their citizens needed them most."
The L.A. world premiere was honored with two L.A. Stage Alliance 2007 Ovation Award nominations. Maddock and Pharriss received nominations as playwrights for Best World-Premiere Play.
Actor-writer Maddock is featured in the production. The idea for the play began when Maddock returned to Los Angeles after his fall 2005 work in New Orleans.
He told Playbill.com, "Lotti said, 'You have to tell these stories.' After some hesitation — I didn't want to exploit the people I had met — and really after seeing that the stories emerging in the press were nothing like the things I had witnessed or experienced, I agreed with her and we set out writing as a tribute to the people of New Orleans, the volunteers and, of course, the animals." How did the play change between Los Angeles and Chicago?
"We tried to focus in as much as possible on the victims of Katrina," Maddock said of rewrites/revisions since Los Angeles. "There was quite a bit about my mother, who had passed away a year before, and how we handle grief and how this tragedy brought that loss back to me. We kept that element, but pared it down dramatically.
"I think in this Piven version we also went further with the comedy. We weren't sure initially how humor would play in a story of one of this country's greatest tragedies, but it is such a part of who Lotti and I are as people that we couldn't silence it in our writing. Humor was also integral to how I 'survived' New Orleans, emotionally. It seems obvious, now, that people find the humor in this play refreshing, but at the time we weren't sure if it would be perceived as flippant or disrespectful. But of course, nobody wants to be depressed for two solid hours — I feel like audiences eventually tune out if they get that overwhelmed. So we decided to make the audience laugh and then hit 'em upside the head with the heavy, serious stuff."
The cast also includes DuShon Brown, Jennifer Coombs, Lawrence Grimm, Marla Caceres and Sean Walton.
The creative team includes Courtney O'Neill (set design), Jack Arky (sound design), Christopher Ash (lighting design), Nikki Delhomme (costume design), Kat Powers (set decorator), Michael Caloia (production stage manager), Elissa Weinzimmer (assistant director).
The Piven Theatre is at 927 Noyes Street in Evanston. For tickets or information, call (847) 866-8049 or visit www.piventheatre.org.
For 35 years, the Piven Theatre Workshop has remained a nationally respected acting school and professional Equity theatre. Piven Theatre has received an After Dark Award for Outstanding Ensemble, several Joseph Jefferson Recommendations, a Jeff Award for Best New Adaptation, and a Jeff nomination for Best Original Score. Co-Founders Byrne & Joyce Piven have trained countless theatre artists such as John and Joan Cusack, Kate Walsh, Aidan Quinn, Lili Taylor and Jeremy Piven, to name only a few. Stagebill honored the Pivens with the designation "Chicago's first family of acting." The Pivens have been awarded the Evanston Arts Council Youth and Education Award, the Evanston Mayors Award for the Arts, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Chicago Improv Festival, and the University of Chicago's Glorious Gargoyle Award for lifetime contribution to the theatre.
They were named 1996 Artists of the Year by the Chicago Tribune and were recipients of the Chicago Drama League's 1998 Crystal Award. In 2000, they were awarded a Joseph Jefferson Lifetime Achievement Award.