It starts and ends with a party. The pretentious attitude of the theater is not there. Instead the people in the room, on stage and off, are sharing a warm, though at times difficult, experience. Sharing, such a rare value in the theater, is what this gem of a play is about. Sharing the experiences of our compatriots down south who suffered the devastation of Katrina and its aftermath, and the life embracing wisdom they gained by it. Through a collaborative process, which included over forty Louisiana artists as well as the personal stories of many other Katrina survivors, Sustained Winds freely maneuvers between realistic scenes, dance, live video, poetry and music to tell the tale of a city bombarded by nature and abandoned by the state. Through the personal lens the wider political picture is revealed as the piece unfolds. A man hears the voice of New Orleans mayor Roy Nagin ordering the population to evacuate, but he simply can not spare the extra few hundred dollars he would have to spend on leaving. The audience sits with him through the storm as a group of people would sit through a New Orleans hurricane party, where people join together to support each other into the night.
But the storm itself is just the first chapter of this revelatory mythical saga. As the insurance dealer tells a man whose home is still broken down eight months after the disaster (fine actor/musician Andy Cornett), the storm is only partly to blame. This, the audience learns through comedy as the people of New Orleans learned through tragedy, is the truth about the entire Katrina picture. In one of the toughest moments of the evening, actor Katie Keator makes use of her explosively honest acting talent to portray a woman driven to rage by watching private militias lead a small group of rich affiliates out of New Orleans. ‘When did this happen,’ she’s asked by a news reporter (the excellent Lian Cheramie). ‘Several days before FEMA showed up.’ And the audience along with the reporter can now see clearly the third world that was taking place within the US.
In the political heart of the play a drunk Ms. USA is showered with words describing her true nature, as experienced by this ensemble of Americans: “corruption” “pollution” “nepotism” “cronyism.” ‘Let’s face it,’ say the chorus of dancing women to the audience, ‘this is what it is.’
However, what is most remarkable about this show, and by extension the process of mourning and rebirth of the people of Louisiana, is its ability to move beyond the negative into a dance of self-exploration in the face of destruction. Sustained Winds is a moving and fun theater experience that should be shared by people all over the country, expertly crafted by director Amy Waguespack and her gifted group of multi-disciplined, heart-felt artists.