Southern Rep Theater, in conjunction with the CAC presents now through April 14 the latest play by John Biguenet in his Rising Water trilogy, Mold. His previous two installments, Rising Waters and Shotgun received critical acclaim, and this third installment also rises to the occasion. Be informed, there are spoilers to follow.
I knew this would be a difficult play to watch, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be until I walked into the theater, saw the stage and then felt the wounds of Katrina reopening inside. The set evoked a visceral reaction: the screen door wide open, the furniture looked as if it had been agitated in a washing machine, the buckled floor and warped ceiling fan blades drooping from gravity’s pull and the splattered walls of Katrina patina that looks like a speckled yard egg. When Emile Guidry (played by Trey Burvant) and his wife Marie (played by Kerry Cahill) pushed open the swollen front door, the audience could then see the orange Katrina X-code: 9/21 – CA7 – 0 – 2 dead.
In the first act, Emile and Marie are in his parents home 1 year after the storm waiting to meet the insurance adjuster. It took them a long time to return and the shock of the condition inside as they push the front door open is overwhelming. The third character, Mrs. Delachaise (played by Carol Sutton) a volunteer with the City of New Orleans shows up first, and is tasked with condemning properties and marking homes for demolition, the Guidry home included. Emile is beside himself dealing with the grief of destruction as he meets the coldness of bureaucracy embodied by Mrs. Delachaise, but as he sulks off, Marie and Mrs. Delachaise bond on the porch with Mrs. Delachaise reliving her experiences going through Hurricane Betsy and then astutely diagnosing Marie expecting a child. It was one of those bonding experiences we all know during a storm: with the power out and no electronic gadgets to distract us, we turn to the old ways of conversation and story telling and bonding with strangers while sharing the experience going through the disaster.
The second act opens with the fourth character Mr. Bernard the adjuster (played by Randy Maggiore). He introduces Emile to the 5th kingdom of mold, and the battle that everyone endures fighting for insurance payouts to become whole again. The arguing sets off Mr. Bernard, who angrily relives rescuing people with his boat in the aftermath of the flood, pointing out that Emile was far away, sipping coffee in Houston. Turns out after all the discussion, Emile’s parents don’t have flood insurance, and the grand total of the settlement comes to a measly $1200. It is after Mr. Bernard leaves that the struggle ensues between Emile wanting to remain in New Orleans, the proud mantra that “I’m a New Orleanian and anything is possible” clashing with Marie’s realistic view that there is no money to rebuild, nowhere to live if they did decide to do it themselves and no point in living amongst the ghosts of what New Orleans was and will never be again. Then she reveals to her husband that she is pregnant…
In the brief Q&A that followed the play, Biguenet informed the audience how he had stitched together all the vignettes from countless Katrina stories into the script of Mold. He indicated that Mold was written for all the New Orleanians caught up in the diaspora who remain in exile, as much as for those mold rooted, tenacious New Orleanians that were able to return and rebuild. One audience member wanted Biguenet to add more stories to his trilogy, but others said it was complete. I believe he has covered the experience of enduring Katrina. Mold ends with the couple holding onto each other, the future unknown, the collective experience of discovering the extent of destruction in the immediate aftermath having passed and coming to terms with the loss of loved ones and possessions. The rest of the story has yet to be written with the next step down the path different for everyone as life moves on, and that is where the trilogy ends, for now.
Thanks to Southern Rep for extending the invitation to attend. Experience Mold for yourself, its an entertaining and thought provoking journey to traverse. I hope that this trilogy makes it to the New York stage: in the aftermath of Sandy there will be a whole new audience that can appreciate the relevance and profound message Biguenet’s stories portray.