The Play About My Dad at 59E59 is a rare gem masterfully guided by an incredible new voice in theater. Boo Killebrew’s beautiful play depicts several heartbreaking stories about the lives of people she knew and loved that were forever altered by Hurricane Katrina. The glue of the play is Boo Killebrew herself and her father Larry Hammond Killebrew, an emergency room doctor who was on duty in Pass Christian, Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina. The stories the play tells are recollections of Larry and Boo’s memories woven together by their own turmoil. The play opens on a spare stage sprinkled with a few milk crates, old chairs and plywood boards. Larry (Jay Potter) and Boo (Anna Greenfield) enter with scripts in hand. Boo announces to the audience, “ We are going to play with magical realism and time travel and side stories and make the whole thing sort of like a tapestry.” After an awkward introduction from Larry, who reminds us he is not an actor, he and Boo introduce the other characters in the play.
Kenny Tyson (Jordan Mahome) and Neil Plitt (TJ Witham) are two childhood friends of Boo’s who happen to be EMT workers on duty the day Hurricane Katrina hit. The scene opens with the two caught up in heated banter about whether or not Kenny, as he claims, can actually travel to other dimensions. Neil does not believe him, but his tone quietly changes when Kenny reveals a piece of news that sends a wave of fear through Neil.
Jay Thomas (Juan Francisco Villa), his wife Rena Thomas (Annie Henk) and their five-year-old son Michael (David Rosenblatt) are locals from Pass Christian. They are in the process of boarding up their windows before the storm hits. Michael is frightened by the loud thunder, but is quickly calmed by his parents who tell him they are going to have a hurricane party.
Essie Watson (Geany Masai) is an elderly woman who helped raise Larry as a child. Larry stops by on his way to the hospital to check in on Essie. He tries to get her to go with him, but she refuses to leave her home. “You think I can’t take care of myself?” Essie remarks. “I taught you how to wipe your own backside.”
From there we watch the events of that all-too-familiar day unfold onstage. We watch as families and lives, just like memories and ghosts, are swirled up by nature. We watch as Boo and Larry, through the chaos of nature, gain the courage to finally confront their own memories and ghosts.
The entire cast is absolutely wonderful. Especially noteworthy are Anna Greenfield and Jay Potter. Both give nuanced and heartfelt performances, intimately capturing the complicated and universal relationship between a father and a daughter. During one of Greenfield’s monologues, the play was interrupted by a cellphone buzz. Without batting an eye, Greenfield paused the story and asked that the phone be shut off. It took me a moment to realize that this was not part of the play.
Lee Sunday Evans’s direction is subtle and effective. She creatively uses a somewhat awkward space to the play’s advantage through minimalistic choices. There are no sound effects or dramatic lighting or theatrical movements. She strips the play to its bare bones, allowing the audience to be swept up by the stories onstage mixed with our own memories of that event.
Killebrew skillfully navigates a terrain that is full of very big landmines. How do you objectively write a play about yourself and your father? But she manages to do so while avoiding traps- such as sentimentality or self-indulgence or superficial dialogue- that a lesser writer could easily succumb to.
The Play About My Dad is about Boo and her father, sure, but it is also about much more. We waste so much time holding grudges against the people we love, but we never know when that devastating storm will hit in our own lives and never give us the chance to forgive. Luckily for Boo and Larry Killebrew, nature gave them a second chance that they tenderly share with the rest of us.