Hurricane Katrina opened up discussions of race and class. Some people believe the divides are greater and more virulent since the storm. Shotgun, local playwright John Biguenet's second installment in a promised post-Katrina trilogy, deals with race but is ultimately about people. And it's fascinating. Director Valerie Curtis-Newton gathered a topnotch cast to tell this story.
Many of the characters have been displaced by the storm. Beau Harlan (Rus Blackwell) and his son Eugene (Alex Lemonier), who are white, arrive at the West Bank home of Mattie Godchaux (Donna Duplantier), who is black. The father and son are looking for a place to rent while they repair their severely damaged Gentilly home. They can't afford the motel they've been living in, and a FEMA trailer seems like a distant dream, separated from the real world by a thick fog of bureaucracy.
Mattie has already taken in her father Dexter (Lance Nichols), but the other half of the shotgun is open. Beau and Eugene move in and the play focuses on this microcosm. Eugene misses his old friends and fears black kids in his new neighborhood will harass him. But for the most part, what we see are racial barriers melting under the pressure of intimacy. All the people involved are basically decent, and as they get to know each other, the differences pale in comparison to the similarities. For example, Dexter tells Beau he's given up on church.
"Since the flood, you mean?" Beau asks.
"Since I lost my wife."
"Same for me," agrees Beau. The pain of loss unites the unlikely pair despite their widely different views of the world.
What, for instance, is the symbolism of Robert E. Lee's statue? "Don't forget your place, n—r!" says Dexter. But much of the give-and-take is on a lighter note, like when Dexter asks the guitar-strumming Beau, "That all you know is hillbilly songs?"
Universality trumps race most emphatically in the romance that develops between Beau and Mattie. Eugene finds this infuriating, partly because he can't stand the idea of his mother being replaced and partly because he blames his father for her death. There is nothing cheap in the romance. It is perhaps doomed, but painful and poignant.
You won't regret revisiting the aftermath of the storm in this production.
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., May 21-23; 3 p.m. Sun., May 24; through May 31
Southern Rep, The Shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545; www.southernrep.com