According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blanche Survives Hurricane Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire

In Mark Sam Rosenthal's one-man show, Blanche DuBois finds herself in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina, navigating the same vast sea of red tape and false promises that average citizens of Louisiana had to endure. Unfortunately, despite the presence of a natural disaster and a well known (and loved) character, it is campier, not insightful.

Photo/Stephen Gelb

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

In writer and actor Mark Sam Rosenthal’s one-man show Blanche Survives Hurricane Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire, Blanche Dubois has made it out of the hospital she was carted off to at the end of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. She's stayed in New Orleans since then, and is ready to shed some light on the very real and very scary arrival of Hurricane Katrina. However, despite Rosenthal’s obvious affection for Blanche, his use of camp makes it hard for Blanche to keep up her appearances. According to the program notes, Rosenthal played Blanche to cope with the hurricane’s aftermath, just his Blanche ignores everything past 1960 as a survival mechanism. This ends up dissolving into a weak parody of an iconic character, failing to add insight into either the character of Blanche or the horrifying events she and so many others faced during Hurricane Katrina.

The tiny set conveys the wreckage Blanche walks through on the way to the Superdome: jackets and scarves draped listlessly over a Do Not Enter sign that is sadly reminiscent of FEMA’s message post-hurricane. Despite being small, it manages to show Blanche traveling from the Superdome in Louisiana to a megachurch in Phoenix that has “adopted” Katrina survivors. (Blanche is still just as reliant on the kindness of strangers as ever, save that now the stranger is Uncle Sam, and all he’s offering is red tape.) However, the set is more believable and affecting than the actor.

When Rosenthal enters, he’s in shorts, sneakers, and a surgical mask, listening to an iPod as he digs through the wreckage, which doubles as the Superdome, a motel room, and Phoenix, Arizona, as Blanche narrates her story. The visual effect makes it seems as if Rosenthal isn’t committed to his character, and even when he puts on a wig, his voice is a high, slow exaggerated southern accent. His movements are equally unsubtle: all limp wrists and prancing.

At best, Blanche Survives Hurricane Katrina is lighthearted camp: she refers to herself as the “au lait” in a “sea of cafĂ©,” and runs, flustered and furious, to her social worker after hearing her temporary roommate’s favorite song, “My Humps.” This roommate, Shandria D’Africa, also provides her with her first hit of crack. Watching Blanche exclaim, eyes wide, wig nearly falling off, and arms in the air, “That’s like no cigarette I’ve ever had!” is cringingly hilarious. But these laughs are short-lived, and this comic narration fails to keep the story moving. Rosenthal’s idea is a good one—using Blanche’s devotion to alcohol, make-up, and men as a way to defiantly slap glamor on an extremely unglamorous event. However, his execution isn’t glamorous, it’s just trashy.

Blanche Survives Hurricane Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire (70 minutes)
Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street)
Tickets available at the box office or at ($30)
Performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays 7pm and 9pm, and Saturdays 3pm and 9pm through March 15.

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