Identities wiped out. Homes destroyed. Families torn apart. These are just some of the outcomes explored in The Day The Waters Came, the latest Theatre Centre production written by Lisa Evans. Set in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, the play focuses around the struggling fight for survival in a city devastated by floods and crippled for help.
The Day The Waters Came is a fast paced snapshot of the time when citizens of New Orleans suddenly found themselves homeless and lost in the city they once called home. The cast of four energetically retell moments and fragments in Evans script, under the careful direction of Theatre Centre’s Artistic Director, Natalie Wilson. Being so disconnected to those troubled times in America when the hurricane hit, The Day The Waters Came is somewhat of an educational experience for the audience. We saw the images across the news channels but hearing the stories retold through the play allows for the horrors experienced to be brought to life in the Unicorn’s studio space.
There are numerous stories and characters that the cast switch between but the focus is on Maya, a 14 year old girl whose experiences of the flooding we follow. From clinging onto the roof, to floating in the water, Maya’s story entwines itself with those helpless people around her. The varying stories that Maya becomes a part of show the outcomes of the flooding and the levels of torment the citizens of New Orleans suffered with little to no help for days trapped in houses, on roofs and stuck in the Superdome.
As Maya, Amber Cameron is wonderful at conveying a sense of innocence as she gets swept along by the water. Cameron energetically retells the story acting as narrator and protagonist. As Maya’s mother, Darlene Charles manages to grasp the emotional attachment to the characters that we as an audience need, without compromising on her performance. Shane Frater offers a sense of light relief by giving some rather comical characters energy. Lastly Uriah Manning adds to Frater’s humor by portraying Mr Freeman, the elderly neighbor of Maya, with a brilliant bottom lip protruding and stiff limbs to complete the excellent ensemble of young actors.
The cast easily maneuver across Jean Chan’s simple but effective staging, which shows part of a roof and car in the flooding. Where The Day The Waters Came excels is the sense of urgency that the cast deliver their lines, constantly moving the story onwards. Like the disaster itself, there is no time to contemplate the actions of the character but to fight for survival. When we hear that people have stolen cars to use as boats to carry survivors to safety we don’t criticise, we appreciate the bravery of these individuals, and as we are told, in times like this “the rules change”.
Whilst Evans text delivers a fast paced overall sense of loss and determination through the characters fight for survival, it lacks the subtle moments to engage emotionally. The moments of pause and reflection within Wilson’s direction is also somewhat limited through the text, and when we do engage emotionally such as the remembering of the home Maya and her mother once lived in, it is snatched away from us too soon. Perhaps this works well for the experiences of those who suffered in New Orleans, but as an audience we need those moments to recover and engage further from the onslaught of moments and chaos the rest of the piece brings.
However with a strong cast, and Dan Steele’s sound design booming around the auditorium it is hard to not get a sense of what was experienced, and still is being experienced years after the tragedy. The Day The Waters Came is poignant, superbly directed and delivers 60 minutes of fast paced action that will leave you awash with sadness for those that survived at the blow of mother nature.
The Day The Waters Came is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 9th October before continuing on tour. For more details see the Theatre Centre’s website here.