In its 42nd season, TheatreWorks offers the world premiere of Clementine in the Lower 9 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. In the play, written by author Dan Dietz and directed by Leah Gardiner (a New York director who won an Obie recently for Born Bad), author Dan Dietz takes the audience back to one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
The action is set nine months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana’s coast. One family living in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward is working hard to rebuild their home. J.B. Wilson’s set creates the battered world in which the family’s story unfolds. With tattered walls, holes in the roof and windswept debris framing the stage, the audience sees all that is left of the family’s material world in an intricately designed set.
The play opens with Kenny Brawner, the leader of a four-piece jazz band that acts as a kind of chorus from Greek tragedy, sharing the story of why the gods have moved down to New Orleans. Lured by the blues music, they watch over Clementine, played by the dynamic and engaging Laiona Michelle, as she struggles to piece back together her family.
Clementine’s son, Reginald (Matt Jones), returns from college in New York for the first time since the storm. He lends a crucial performance as he struggles with his mom’s unwavering faith in her husband and his memories of a childhood that will not soon be forgotten. Jaffy (Jack Koenig), her musician husband, was evacuated to Houston after the storm and is also returning home for the first time in nine months. He arrives with a teenage drug addict, Cassy (Jayne Deely), whom he believes can tell the future.
Believed to be another one of his delusional quick-money schemes, the family struggles to move on with the unexpected visitor in tow. The memory of the daughter that Jaffy couldn’t save in the flooding waters still haunts the family. Clementine learns that Cassy may not only be able to tell the future but the past as well. As she discovers the true story of her little girl’s drowning, the family is put through the wringer.
With its biting humor and brutal honesty, Clementine in the Lower 9 tests the limits of one family during a terrible tragedy. With deeply buried secrets, which slowly arise during the course of the evening to a most surprising ending, each character’s mental and physical strength is tested.
Composer-music director Justin Ellington draws on Dietz’s dialogue to generate original music with a mix of the old-time blues. The music is the driving force behind the play, bringing to life the character’s movements throughout the story. Even when the drama fades, the music carries on.
Clementine in the Lower 9
Runs through Oct. 30: $19-$59
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts