[THEATER REVIEW] Runaway Home Explores Life in the Wake of Katrina

Shopkeeper Armado Rey and Camille Spirlin (Kali) in Runaway Home. Photo by Ed Krieger.

The human toll of a major disaster—hurricane, fire or earthquake—lingers long after the media is on to a new devastation. Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, currently onstage at the Fountain Theatre, takes us to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward three years after Hurricane Katrina has devastated the area, exploring the human tragedy that continues to haunt survivors.

Fourteen-year-old Kali (Camille Spirlin) is a sassy, precocious teen with an attitude. She is running away from home because her mother, Eunice, (Maya Lynne Robinson) has slapped her. The two have recently returned to their damaged home and are still grieving the death of Kali’s grandmother, which occurred as the family was being rescued from the floods. Her body was never recovered.

Kali is soon caught stealing from a small store run by Armando (Armando Rey), an immigrant from Mexico who is struggling to earn money to bring his daughters to America. He is angry but soon relents and offers Kali a part-time job to help him tend the store.

Playwright Kamps writes from firsthand experience. Two years after Katrina he went to New Orleans to help restore homes that had been ravaged by the flood. He was impressed by the residents’ resilience in dealing with their loss. He wanted to see the past, present and future of the Lower Ninth through their eyes.

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s set helps set the mood, heaping mounds of debris left over from the storm at center stage, a reminder of what has been lost. The façade of Eunice’s trashed home is seen at one side of the stage, and Armando’s simple bodega is at the other.

Multiple award-winner Shirley Jo Finney directs a talented cast of unforgettable characters. Spirlin’s Kali is luminous although her Louisiana patois was at times hard for me to understand.

The broken mother-daughter relationship is a sort of metaphor for a society that has also been torn apart. Ultimately this is a play about people whose voices are not often heard in our society. Although it deals with human tragedy, it also has moments of humor.

Runaway Home runs through November 5th, Saturdays and Mondays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $20-$40, Monday night Pay-What-You-Want (323)662-1525 or FountainTheatre.com. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. at Normandy. On-site parking, $5

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