The Play about my Dad

  • Our critic's rating:
    June 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    This is a charming and clever piece of theatre. It does not reach the heights it aims for, but it comes pretty damn close.

    Boo Killebrew (Anna Greenfield) – you just don’t get to make up names like this; they are always real – was living in Manhattan when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Her father, Larry (Jay Potter), was working in the emergency room of the hospital in Gulfport, Mississippi. This play is made up of three of the stories that he related to his daughter with a bit of Boo’s family history tacked on for good measure.

    The characters of Boo and Larry speak to us to explain what is going to happen: Magical Realism they call it. This is a first for Larry, who has no trouble removing balloons of cocaine out of a man’s gut, or using a Black and Decker drill to remove a screw from a child’s foot. But this here? This is new. And the telling of the tale is founded on his daughter’s faith in Larry – which suffered along the way – that started in childhood.

    Kenny (Jordan Mahome), a childhood sweetheart of Boo’s, and Neil (TJ Witham) are EMT’s on duty the day that Katrina arrives. Essie Watson (Geany Masai) lives by herself and prefers the company of her small house to the accommodations at the hospital that Larry offers as a precaution. Jay (Juan Francisco Villa), Reba (Annie Henck) and Michael Thomas (David Rosenblatt) also choose home over evacuation because they have no way to leave town other than public transportation, and that is too crazy to deal with. All three stories end up on the not so very good side, but not before we come to know these people. This is part of the magic of Killebrew’s telling.

    In a style that is reminiscent of the shows that we all used to put on as kids, Killebrew never lets us forget that what we are seeing is storytelling. The props are plywood and chairs, and the lights appear to be hanging mason jars with bulbs inserted. It is all very “Awwww shucks” in its presentation. As Larry and Boo, Potter and Greenfield bring simplicity and ease to their work that catches us off guard in just the right ways. They comment on scenes both to us and to each other. They bicker about the content and the order. It is a family within a play within a play, and these two are a pleasure.

    The conceit, however, becomes the strength and the weakness of the production, because it serves to undermine the story and its structure, which is where we get lost in the telling. Once the horse is let out of the barn, it is wise to let her have her head until she gets run out. Killebrew never lets these stories quite take over as they would like to. We keep returning to Boo and Larry in “reality” when there is no need because we already know who they are, and it is the story or stories to which we would like to give our attention.

    The result is that the structure of this piece becomes the dominant element of the evening. It doesn’t dismiss the stories being told. Like the title, it simply diverts our attention to Larry Killebrew and dilutes his stories, which deserve to be served full strength. In this incarnation Killebrew tries to make this play about her father, when it is actually about the people he served.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "She succeeds (Boo Killebrew) in creating arresting snapshots of people caught up in disaster, and her dialogue has the ring of truth."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

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