Hurricane Katrina may feel like distant history to all of us safely living in New York, but to the people in New Orleans, the horrors continue every day. Luckily Siobhan O’Loughlin is here to share the tales of 13 survivors, bringing the story to life in Frigid New York’s presentation of The Rope in Your Hands.
O’Loughlin brings grace and humanity to every survivor’s story, without judgment or condescension, but with dignity and compassion. From homeless street performers to educated university personnel, from a preacher to clean-up volunteers, from a government worker to an old man desperately trying to rebuild his house, O’Loughlin’s subjects span all boundaries of race, class and age in order to give a multi-faceted portrait of a community.
Much like the work of Anna Deveare Smith, O’Loughlin’s impressive writing and acting talents are equally credited with the success of the production. She seamlessly weaves the individual interviews together, creating a cohesive whole that flows naturally through the story of the hurricane. She is also careful to weave together competing perspectives and opinions, including many differing thoughts on race and the role of government. While her own opinions (that the government didn’t do enough and that the struggles are more class-based than race-based) do shine through, she is careful to present a balanced argument.
Just as the writing is exceptional, so too is her acting. O’Loughlin transforms her voice, body and spirit to accurately portray this mélange of characters, fully committing to each one, no matter how far from herself they actually are. Unfortunately, some characters ring more true than others. While accents and specific body postures are necessary to differentiate between the characters, a small few felt like a costume rather than a living person. This minor flaw could not detract from their story, however.
Danielle Skraastad’s direction is also worth noting, as she was adept in her use of space even on an empty blackbox floor. Each character owned a section of the stage, allowing O’Loughlin a tangible change and the audience a moment to transition as well. But somehow each space was exactly fitting, actively adding to their character. Even the interviewee who expressly asked to remain anonymous lived in her space, protected by shadows.
The Rope in Your Hands is a tribute to New Orleans, but more important, it’s a tribute to her people. The love of a city and the hope that keeps the community from giving up on a daily basis are on proudly on display in this production. You don’t have to have been to New Orleans to appreciate O’Louglin’s work; you just have to be human.
The Rope in Your Hands; Written and Performed by Siobhan O’Loughlin; Directed by Danielle Skraastad; Red Room, 85 East 4th Street (hangover performance March 9, The Kraine Theater)