Directed by Andrew Larimer Usually the movies have theater beat when it comes to special effects. However, Andrew Larimer, writer and director of Get This Lake Off My House turned the table on Tinsel Town recently. The play was performed outdoors, on a sandy cove of Lake Pontchartrain, in what was once part of the Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park.
I arrived with my folding chair and a spray can of Off and joined the crowd, lounging on the beach. Like most of the audience, I knew Get This Lake Off My House was a comedy about Katrina. On this particular night, however, it looked like Katrina herself was going to put in an appearance. The sky was clouded over in a stormy sunset. The wind was whipping white-capped waves toward us. It was also flaying us with sand. We squinted and turned away. Some bright soul realized he could hold up a clear plastic picnic dish in front of his face to shield his ocular orbs. Others caught on. Someone else started passing out these dishes to those who had none. We must have looked like the creatures of some weird planet gathered for ritual -- which is, in fact, what we were. Lightning started streaking down in the distance. Amidst this apt turmoil, the play began.
Get This Lake Off My House is subtitled: Our Tempest. That "our" is meant to distinguish Larimer's storm from Shakespeare's. Get This Lake, in fact, careens in and out of Shakespeare's fantasy, but never gets fussy about the allusions. It toys with the Elizabethan model, the way a fun-house mirror toys with the image of whoever stands in front of it. But the play can't be bothered with the kind of elaborate mimicry required by a spoof.
In any case, the mayor of a city facing imminent destruction is a personable African-American man named Rospero (Donald Lewis). The name obviously sounds an awful lot like Prospero, the magician hero of The Tempest. Furthermore, Rospero has a lovely daughter named Miranda (Ashley Noel Jones) as does his literary ancestor. Is Rospero into necromancy? Got me on that one. But his daughter does fall for an inappropriate young swain, Ferdinand (Will Connolly), who is white.
The hurricane strikes. This is symbolically shown by a prancing dervish who tips over a small inflatable wading pond onto a miniature city made of sand. The buildings are actually just the sand molds left by pails and ice cube trays. Oh, the deluge! Oh, the destruction!
Meanwhile, the subplots thicken -- much in the manner of Shakespeare's drunken sailors with their moon calf, better known as Caliban. The modern low-lifes are a cop (Alex Martinez Wallace), a FEMA guy (Nick Kocher) and a parish prison inmate on the lam (James Bartelle). The island they are ensconced on is a rooftop.
Another link with the canonical Tempest is blank verse, which pops up randomly in Get This House like some sort of iambic influenza. "But suddenly all fear in me is gone," announces Miranda at one point. If you count the beats, you'll see she's speaking verse -- a verse that's almost vernacular, but also quaint and archaic. Another character wishes he and his interlocutor could "talk in that easy way as once we did." This guy has also lapsed into a heroic meter.
Of course, all the linguistic filigree is meant for fun. Get This Lake Off My House is a silly title that sets the mood of the piece. Shakespearean scholarship is about as relevant to this giddy entertainment as La Scala is to the Marx Brothers' Night At the Opera. For instance, when the scene on the rooftop has gone on long enough, the low-lifes step out of character and explain to the audience "it's not really water, it's just sand." Then, they step off the roof and exit.
The cast was game and they clearly enjoyed what they were doing (in spite of mother nature's colossal special effects). As a result, the audience enjoyed themselves as well. Faults and goofs did not seem to matter. In a way, they contributed to a freewheeling atmosphere of nonsense, with a dash of satire thrown in. Other actors included Michael Cahill, Justin Scalise, Laura Ramadei and Richard Alexander Pomes.
The NOLA project, which produced Get This Lake, is the same group that brought us The Cripple of Inishmaan last summer at NOCCA/Riverfront. That's a wide range of theater. Next up is a classic from France: The Misanthrope by Moliere at the New Orleans Museum of Art, beginning July 15.