About Survival in the Lower Ninth Ward
By Cynthia Citron
If you are an American, you are aware that there are a number of traumatic dates that have become an indelible part of our collective memory: December 7, 1941, the day we were bombed into the Second World War; November 22, 1963, the day we lost a president; and 9/11, the day we lost the World Trade Center and 2,000 people who worked there.
But if you lived in Louisiana, you will also remember August 29, 2005, the day that Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes the country has ever experienced, made landfall and nearly destroyed New Orleans. Among the areas that were hardest hit was the Lower Ninth Ward.
Now a new play about the aftermath of that devastating event, set in the Lower Ninth Ward, is currently having its world premiere at Los Angeles’ Fountain Theater. The play, by Jeremy J. Kamps, is called “Runaway Home” and it takes place three years later, in August 2008.
The protagonist, Kali (Camille Spirlin), a bratty 14-year-old who has run away from home, is wandering around a deserted neighborhood of dilapidated remnants of homes that nobody lives in and nobody has restored. All around her is the detritus of the storm — junk piled into plastic laundry baskets or cardboard boxes that their owners abandoned rather than lug them into the unknown future.
But a ragtag bunch that remained, or have returned, make their way in and out of Kali’s world to tell her about their lives, their expectations, and their disappointments.
There is Mr. Dee (Jeris Poindexter), who had four kids and a wife that wore a curly black wig on Sundays. And Eunice (Maya Lynne Robinson), Kali’s mother, who charges Kali with having “a bad attitude” and pines for her disappeared lover, Tat (Leith Burke). Also Lone Wolf (Brian Tichnell), an anarchist who believes that “a bullet can change the world.” He also advises Kali that “you can’t be a runaway if nobody wants you.”
Kali survives, however, by sneaking into a small grocery and filling up her backpack with candy. Caught by the store’s owner, Armando (Armando Rey), she blithely talks him out of a reprisal and goes on to talk him into hiring her as a helper. What’s more, after she sweeps the floor she demands a promotion.
She also sneaks back to her mother’s home and hides where she can watch and listen to her mother and Shana (Karen Malina White), her mother’s best friend, talk. Eventually Kali confronts her mother and accuses her of abandoning her responsibilities and never loving her.
“You’re the runaway!” she shouts. But in the end the mother-daughter relationship takes on a hopeful note and everybody winds up dancing.
Shirley Jo Finney has done her usual fine job of directing and her cast works well together, but somehow something seems to be missing in this story. It may be pathos.
Despite the ugly chaos of the setting, the principles had adapted to their situation and were strangely upbeat at times. There is a message there, I suppose, about human resiliency and what it takes to remain hopeful and get on with your life.
But that message, under these circumstances, felt incongruous to me.
“Runaway Home” will run Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., and Mondays at 8 p.m. through November 5 at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. in Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 663-1525 or go online to www.FountainTheatre.com.
The Fountain will donate a portion of this play’s ticket sales to the Houston Food Bank to help with Hurricane Harvey relief.