Review: ‘Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues’ at Arena Players-ONE MORE PERFORMANCE TODAY AT 4 PM

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One More Performance – See Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues at Arena Players TODAY at 4:00 PM

This Friday, it was my good fortune – courtesy of Artistic Director Donald Owens – to experience Arena Players’ current production, Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues (“Colorblind”). Colorblind is a tricky show to review. The production, seamlessly sewn together by Director Mari Andrea, is not your standard beginning-middle-end kind of play. It is, as the name indicates, a series of monologues. The monologues have a common thread, Hurricane Katrina, but the characters do not interact with each other like in a narrative play. Rather, each actor is performing a vignette – a brief one-person show – that expresses the perspective of one person, a representative of some of the millions of people affected by this natural disaster.

“But when the water came…it came like it meant to hurt people.

It wasn’t just passing through, if you know what I mean. It was invading.”

Hurricane Katrina was horrifying, but for most of the country – not directly affected by the waters – it was horrifying in an abstract way. Like how hunger in Africa or war in Syria is horrifying. Statistics can turn suffering into tidy facts:

  • Katrina: Category 3 hurricane increased to Category 5 hurricane.
  • Winds up to 175 miles per hour.
  • 25-foot storm surge.
  • Levee and flood walls failed in more than 50 places.
  • 80% of New Orleans underwater. 100% of St. Bernard Parish underwater.
  • 800,000 housing units destroyed or damaged.
  • Damages exceeded $81 billion. Costs over $160 billion (in 2005 US Dollars).
  • Death toll: 1,836. 1,577 from Louisiana; 238 from Mississippi.
  • More than half were senior citizens.

In Colorblind, playwright Tom Flannery takes us past the insulation of statistics and introduces us to nine people. Nine normal, everyday individuals, who tell us their personal Katrina stories. I’m not going to mention these stories or the characters’ names. So much of the reward of watching these fine actors perform their roles is getting to know the characters organically, by listening to their stories first hand. Instead, I want to tell you about the cast of actors that brings them to life…

The Cast of Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues. Photo courtesy of Arena Players, Inc.

George Buntin is gruff and curmudgeonly, projecting a definite “get off my lawn” vibe. Using a raspy voice and brusque body language, Buntin’s physical acting shows both his character’s temperament and his age. Yet, layered beneath this churlish exterior, you can glimpse a moment of the pain his character has suffered.

Virginia Frank ably portrays a woman whose quandary is getting the better of her. Her performance feels honest and real.

I’ve enjoyed Dominic Gladden’s work in every role I’ve seen him portray. His performance in Colorblind is no exception. His character brings a welcome spot of levity, but Gladden skillfully balances the lighter aspects of his monologue with the factual reality of his situation.

Zachai McLeod wowed me. He’s only in second grade, but he already has a strong stage presence and a good sense of his audience. I was in the back row and had no trouble hearing or understanding him despite his tender age and the even tenderer predicament of his character.

Don Murray delivers a performance that seems to intertwine bitterness, resignation, and faith in an unexpected way. The resulting monologue feels righteous, like a prayer.

Rahmaan Murray is strong. Physically, he looks like a man who can lift really heavy things and probably do 1,000 push-ups without breathing hard. But it’s not just his bearing. Portraying his character with rail-straight posture, clipped and efficient language, and a quick mind, he presents him as strong of will, as well. Murray combines that strength with a kind of desperation that makes his performance memorable.

Cheryl Pasteur plays a role it could be easy to dislike, but I couldn’t. I think it’s because Pasteur portrays her character with unabashed honesty. She presents as authentic and pragmatic and real. It’s hard to have enmity for a person who speaks the truth, however disappointing the truth may be.

TiaJuana Rountree is breathtaking. She nailed her performance and it’s been stuck in my head for days. Absolutely top marks.

Dawn Taylor’s character is a complex combination of identities. Her internal struggle in the midst of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina requires emotional range and a deep understanding of a very particular set of stressors. Taylor’s commitment to playing this complicated woman truthfully and with dignity is admirable.

Lithe dancers Ambrey Tyler and Gabrielle Edgerson perform beautifully, bringing an otherworldly gentleness to the scene they grace.

As talented as this cast is, they couldn’t have put together this show without the help of the capable creative team. Kudos are due to Director/Sound Designer/Costume Consultant Mari Andrea; Stage Manager Lauren Kane; Sound Technician Randolph Smith; Light Technician Charlene Williamson; Set Constructionist Byron “Tony” Rodgers, Sr.; and Photographer Donald Williams. I also want to give a special shout out to Scenic Designer Andrea R. Crews, whose simple set created just the right tone for the show. The quiet way in which the names of the dead are memorialized is a respectful tribute, and the American flag is artistic, symbolic, and beautiful.

“You need only to turn off the TV.

You can become disengaged without getting off the couch.”

Sadly, I was unable to review this show earlier and the result is that you have only one more chance to experience Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues while it’s still running at Arena Players. We must examine the catastrophes of our past and the ways we handled them if we are to have any hope of responding more skillfully in the future. Remembering – not letting ourselves become disengaged and forget – is the first step. So run, do not walk, over to Arena Players to see this powerful play before it’s gone.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, plus a 10-minute intermission.

Colorblind: The Katrina Monologues has one more performance TODAY, February 26, 2017 at 4:00 PM, at Arena Players – 801 McCulloh Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.

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