Af­ter the flood

Pasatiempo - - Mixed Media -

It has been more than five years since New Or­leans’ lev­ees rup­tured dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, ush­er­ing in the in­un­da­tion of the Gulf Coast city. The sto­ries of 16 Louisiana women who lived through those har­row­ing days are the fo­cus of Swim­ming Up­stream, a play di­rected by Eve Ensler, who is widely known for The Vagina Mono­logues.

The the­ater piece mixes dra­matic sto­ry­telling, whip-smart hu­mor, po­etry, tes­ti­monies and gospel mu­si­cal pieces. Based on orig­i­nal sto­ries of sur­vival con­trib­uted by cast mem­bers, the play was work­shopped over 18 months in ses­sions led by Carol Be­belle of the Ashé Cul­tural Arts Cen­ter in New Or­leans and Ensler. The women whose sto­ries are fea­tured in­clude a teenage film­maker, a for­mer Ve­gas show­girl, a gospel singer, and a Mardi Gras In­dian ma­tri­arch. The col­lab­o­ra­tion was con­ceived as part of V-Day, a global move­ment to stop vi­o­lence against women and girls.

Swim­ming Up­stream de­buted in April 2008 at the Louisiana Su­per­dome. Since then, it has been per­formed at New York’s Apollo The­ater and in Atlanta. The cur­rent tour­ing pro­duc­tion which stops in Santa Fe in­cludes mem­bers of the orig­i­nal New Or­leans cast and two singers.

The piece in­cludes many raw mo­ments from the women’s lives. In an in­ter­view on Democ­racy Now!, ac­tress Karen-kaia Liv­ers said that some of her neigh­bors “ended up dead and mum­mi­fied by the mud. They were not found for four months, be­cause they were el­derly and for­eign with­out close fam­ily.” In that same in­ter­view, Kerry Wash­ing­ton re­counts how in the days af­ter the flood, peo­ple wan­dered through su­per­mar­kets avoid­ing the pet aisle, “be­cause you might col­lapse and puke right there in the store for the hor­ror of what your pet is liv­ing through, lived through, if alive at all.”

Swim­ming Up­stream shows at 7 p.m. on Fri­day, March 18, at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter (211 W. San Fran­cisco St.). Af­ter the play, Ensler hosts a talk with the cast. Tick­ets, $25, $15 for stu­dents, are avail­able from www.tick­ and by call­ing 988-1234.

— Casey Sanchez

Singing out for New Or­leans: the cast of Swim­ming Up­stream

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