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Hurricane Jose 

Will Coviello on Jose Torres-Tama's new show Cone of Uncertainty

click to enlarge Jose Torres-Tama's show chronicles the stories of New Orleanians affected by the the levee failures.
  • Jose Torres-Tama's show chronicles the stories of New Orleanians affected by the the levee failures.

Not all New Orleanians may remember there was a Hurricane Jose in 2005. A week before Hurricane Katrina's devastating landfall on the Gulf Coast, Jose had been downgraded to a tropical storm and hit central Mexico.

  Performance artist Jose Torres-Tama jokes that no one remembers the storm with the Latin identity. He uses it as a point of humor in his one-man show The Cone of Uncertainty: New Orleans After Katrina, a piece that revisits the ordeal some people suffered when evacuating from New Orleans, issues of displacement and the experiences of Latinos who came to New Orleans to help the city rebuild.

  "My work is a people's memory of the events," Torres-Tama says.

  Torres-Tama had his own challenging escape from the city. He managed to get on a stolen Jefferson Parish bus and ride to Baton Rouge, he says. Along with his future wife, he then traveled to Gainesville, Fla., and returned to inspect his Marigny apartment when the city reopened in October. Torres-Tama recorded his experiences in a series of essays, and an arts activist friend in Los Angeles proposed turning them into a performance piece. The Cone of Uncertainty opened in Los Angeles in November 2005. Torres-Tama has since refined the material, filled in details about rebuilding New Orleans and taken the show on tour.

  "'The Cone of Uncertainty' was the first title I had for the show," he says. "But it is a very poetic title. It's both about the looming storm and rebuilding, and about the way the storm made us realize a lot about our government, which couldn't get buses to the city to rescue the most marginalized people."

  The piece begins with film footage of the floodwaters rising after the levees broke. One of the characters is an elderly gentleman from Torres-Tama's neighborhood who set off toward the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center when he heard people were assembling there to be evacuated. Torres-Tama never heard from him again.

  Torres-Tama describes his work as "magical realist Latino voodoo," and he animates a Baron Samedi character who discourses on cultural issues. Torres-Tama addresses issues ranging from the role of global warming in generating powerful storms to disasters as an agent of forced migration for people of color. He creates image and narrative collages to capture both tragic and comic moments.

  Cone covers some material similar to Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers. It weaves together his personal story about being born in Ecuador, growing up in New York and moving to New Orleans with stories about Latino culture, national immigration policies, and profiles of laborers who came to New Orleans to help rebuild. He also curated a photography exhibit at Barristers Gallery titled Los Invisibles, which portrayed some of the city's undocumented population.

Opens Aug. 25

The Cone of Uncertainty: New Orleans After Katrina

8 p.m. Thu.-Sun.; Aug. 25 through Sept. 11

Shadowbox Theatre, 2400 St. Claude Ave., 298-8676; www.shadowboxtheatre.com

Tickets $10 general admission, $16 for two tickets, $8 students

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