Saturday, May 9, 2009

A different kind of Shotgun

John Biguenet, the Loyola University playwright, has scored a major success with his second Hurricane Katrina-inspired drama "Shotgun." Biguenet's earlier play "Rising Water" garnered national and regional awards for the soft-spoken and gregarious Biguenet, and set the mark for other dramas dealing with the tragedy of lives literally washed away by the monster hurricane. Much of Biguenet's first offering took place in an attic as a longtime married New Orleans couple sought refuge from drowning in the hours following the storm. "Shotgun" takes place in the period that ran from January through May of 2006, a time when race relations were less strained due to a common perceived recovery effort on the parts of both the Caucasian and African-American communities. At the opening of the play, a white man, Beau Harlan (played by Rus Blackwell) and his son Eugene (Alex Lemonier) seek out a place to live in a black section of Algiers, across the river from their destroyed home in Gentilly. The imagery of bridge building and using bridges to build relationships is key to this script as Mattie Godchaux, the daughter (Donna Duplantier) of an old out-of-work machinist (Lance E. Nichols) allows them to rent the other side of her shotgun home she is sharing with her father. There is a sense of loss that both families have experienced due to the storm and the characters are fleshed out very well from the start when the white family accepts the generous offer of housing from the down-on-their luck Godchaux family. As the days move on the two incomplete families become closer and Beau and Mattie come to lean on each other for emotional support. Mattie's former love interest, Clarence "Willie" Williams (Kenneth Brown, Jr.) provides comic release as a ne'er-do-well who comes of age and achieves real growth at the play's end. Each of the play's characters comes to grips with extreme loss. Mattie has suffered a miscarriage. Dex, who has been proudly and fiercely independent, has lost his Ninth Ward home and the memories associated with his deceased wife. Both of the Harlans are dealing with the storm-related death of the wife and mother they deeply loved. Even Clarence, who wants everyone to call him Willie now, bemoans the loss of Mattie's love for him. In "Rising Water" Biguenet showed two people literally clinging to each other as the murky waters of the broken levees forced them into the crawl space of their attic. In "Shotgun" he shows two people clinging to each other who are literally torn apart by outside forces. Valerie Curtis-Newman previously directed Nichols in "Yellowman," the emotional play dealing with color variations within the African-American community. Her brilliant direction of Biguenet's script is a must-see for all devotees of theatre and the cast has responded to her direction with exceptional work. Geoffrey Hall handled the scenic designs, which prominently featured a front stoop throughout the play. At one point in the play Mattie refers to the two families living together in the shotgun home as emblematic of the city of New Orleans in a post-Katrina environment, living together and depending upon one another. "Yeah, but there's a wall running down the middle," her father answers, highlighting the problem of racial prejudice that has always existed within the city. "Shotgun" will be seen throughout the remainder of the month at Southern Repertory Theatre. In a talk-back session following the play Biguenet described "Shotgun" as a group of human beings who are dealing with trying to piece their lives together while confronting the external pressure of a climate of returning racism. It is worthy theatre and will play well outside of New Orleans later in the year because of the universality of its message.

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