There have been several works on stage and screen dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and there will likely be more. One current sample that should interest theatergoers: John Biguenet’s Shotgun, now playing at Florida Studio Theatre.
The play is part of the National New Play Networks Rolling World Premiere, which has brought this piece to three theaters including FST. It’s also the second in a trilogy of plays by Biguenet dealing with the trauma of Katrina.
The action is set on a nicely designed set by Bob Phillips that convincingly represents the outside of a “shotgun” apartment and its immediate environs and then slides open to reveal the inside of one half of the residence. In that half come to live a white carpenter, Beau Harlan (William Peden), and his teenage son, Eugene (Tom Patterson), who have been displaced from their own home by the flooding. The owner of the shotgun is Mattie Godchaux (Maya Lynne Robinson), a black woman in her 30s who currently has her also displaced father Dexter (Robert Kya-Hill) living with her and sleeping on her couch, much to his dislike.
Dexter, a longtime machinist put out of work by Katrina, doesn’t cotton to the idea of his daughter renting an apartment to whites, and neither does her former boyfriend, Willie (Freddie Bennett), a hustling, jiving “entrepreneurial” type she’s not about to let back in her life. Mattie is lonely, though, and so is the widowered Beau. As might be predicted, the two form a relationship, but it’s one severely threatened by the opposition of Dexter and Eugene, who’s understandably angry about losing his mother, his friends and his whole way of life.
Biguenet’s characters are well drawn and their situations heartfelt. For the first half of the play, as we are settling in and getting to know these people, Shotgun draws us in.
But the second half feels predictable, and it’s not helped by the tendency of everyone in the cast to shout louder than necessary (and at the same sustained level) in order to convey their emotions. There’s also a lack of convincing chemistry between Robinson and Peden in their scenes together, although she has a good energy and spunkiness and he looks the part of a working guy trying to put his life back together without knowing just how to do that.
Biguenet displays a sure understanding of the city of New Orleans, its strengths and weaknesses, and of the varied backgrounds of its people. A little more subtlety in the production here might go a long way toward making his characters as real as their problems.
Shotgun continues through May 29 on FST’s mainstage; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.