Post-Disaster Comedy, Made By & For Adults 



This may be a heresy — even according to my own warped theatrical religion — but sometimes it’s nice to take a break from all the gimmicky, post-adolescent “look at me, ma” theatre in FringeNYC and check out some work that was made by and for adults. 

“The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival” may sound like the former, but fortunately, it’s the latter. The title is a bait and switch — and more power to the producers for using it, say I. 

Instead of being a bunch of “edgy” politically correct stand-up routines about one of the worst disasters in American history, it presents the undiluted stories of five survivors —with heartbreak, outrage and horror. In short, the full experience of the reality. 

Playwright Rob Florence has forged these harrowing, human accounts apparently taken from actual interviews. The stories are delivered by five uniformly excellent stage veterans (Gary Cowling, Evander Duck, Philip Hoffman, Lizan Mitchell, and Maureen Silliman) who inhabit the events as though they were their own.

What amazes is that people of markedly different backgrounds and identities (a feisty barkeep, an eccentric and impecunious old man, a well-heeled business owner, a lonely woman and a guy watching out for his elderly parents) walked away with very similar experiences. 

The disaster was a great leveler in that respect. The characters are rich, poor, white, black, old and young — but they all suffer the destruction of their homes, threats from looters, the chaos of the relief, evacuation (a national shame), exploitation by politicians and the media and, finally, the experience of being uprooted to another city at the mercy of, well, the kindness of strangers. 

This is not in-your-face agitprop. The facts alone are enough to arouse your sympathy and indignation, pure and simple. The piece could use a stronger finish. As is, it leaves us dangling at the end. But considering that many citizens (and former citizens) of New Orleans and the Gulf are still dangling, maybe that choice, too, is appropriate.