Beyond the headlines

Katrina examined on Puget Sound stages

By Steve Dunkelberger on January 10, 2008

I had a bit of time on my hands over the holidays, so I found myself cruising through television station after station in search of something remotely interesting to watch. I often failed. But one time when I didn’t fail I had clicked over to expanded cable to see the beginning of “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” a movie by Spike Lee about the drama behind Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans after it devastated the city on Aug. 29, 2005.

Lee shoots his director’s lens at not only the destruction of the city but at the seemingly perfect lack of coordination of relief efforts during its aftermath. He not only set out to film a documentary about what he calls an American tragedy but to do it in a way that the tale unfolds as a morality play that provides a lesson to the world. The film is structured in four acts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Katrina’s catastrophic passage through New Orleans.

Since this is a theater column and not a film review, this is where the stage part comes in. It just so happens that Seattle Repertory Theatre is staging “The Breach,” by Catherine Filloux, Tarell McCraney and Joe Sutton, starting this week. 

The play covers the often complexly simple struggles and chaos a storm the likes of Hurricane Katrina creates in the lives of the people involved. In “The Breach,” three separate stories unfold to provide a deep understanding of the havoc Mother Nature can bring to the world. The play also covers the conspiracy theories surrounding the slow emergency response and absolute loss by whole neighborhoods that just happened to be poor and minority during a time when the federal response was being coordinated by rich white guys.

While the movie was powerful, the story of the devastation playing out just yards from your feet is something else. It is a show that should be seen.

“The Breach” plays in the Bagley Wright Theatre, located on the west side of the Seattle Center, through Feb. 9. Shows run at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available through the Seattle Repertory Theatre box office seven days a week at 206.443.2222 as well as at

“The Colored Museum”

Another show about the African-American experience can be found at Tacoma Little Theatre’s Second Stage, which is staging a local debut of George C. Wolfe’s award-winning play “The Colored Museum.”

The show is described as one of the funniest and most controversial pieces of theater celebrating African-American culture. The play contains 11 sketches presented as exhibitions in a museum. There is the skit that paints a slave ship as if it were an extremely budget airline, complete with a stewardess telling the “customers” how to best adjust their shackles during the voyage. Then there is “Symbiosis,” where the central character feels forced to throw away everything connected to his African-American cultural past in order to succeed in predominately white corporate America.

The cast includes: Carmen Brantley-Payne, Jeff Brown, David Dear, LaNita Hudson, Ashanti Mangum, and Celeste Richardson. The production is directed by Micheal O’Hara, likely one of the most talented and big hearted actors in the South Sound.

“‘The Colored Museum’ challenges the listener to take notice and strike up a conversation about where and how we need to move forward towards a brighter future (and) so beautifully showcases spectrums of the rainbow of the African-American experience,” O’Hara says.

The show plays at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 N. I St. in Tacoma’s Stadium District. It runs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday through Jan. 20. All seats are $15. This production is recommended for mature audiences only, since there are adult language and situations throughout the play. Call 253.272.2281, or visit