Boo Killebrew's tale of rescues and reconciliation is extraordinarily moving meta-theater.
The Play About My Dad opens with Larry Killebrew (Joe Mack), stage center, explaining to us what we are about to see—a play, to be exact. This play was written by his daughter, Boo (Tuckie White), who we glimpse at the edge of the stage working the soundboard. It’s her play, but it’s his story.
During Hurricane Katrina, Larry was a doctor at a Gulf Coast hospital. He was estranged from his daughter at the time for reasons that become apparent, but the events of Katrina were a turning point that has led them both to this "rehearsal." It’s his story, but it’s theirs too.
Boo Killebrew, the real-life playwright, weaves this overarching story of a father-daughter collaboration together with three loosely connected “snapshots” of those who stayed in Mississippi to weather the storm. We meet two EMTs, Kenny (Patrick Agada) and Neil (Nick Horst); an elderly caretaker, Essie (Sandra Watson); and Rena and Jay Thomas (Paloma Nozicka and Miguel Nunez), who along with their young son, Michael (Aaron Lamm), become trapped in their attic as the waters start to rise. In between the tellings, Boo and Larry make edits and adjustments, adding scenes and arguing intentions. Larry just wants to get to the heroic finale at the hospital. Boo knows the story is more complicated.
The play succeeds in its deft balance of so many elements. Setting the more familiar story of reconciliation directly beside the life-or-death consequences of a hurricane could work to trivialize the drama of both in less able hands, but Marti Lyons’s direction gracefully shifts the weight from one foot to the other and then back again. The sparse lighting and set design, which consists of little more than the wooden skeleton of a roof and a few chairs, serve the loose structure, providing a little clarity as the individual story threads start to wrap around one another.
The performances have a uniformly burrowed intensity, but special attention must be given to Mack, who moves so effortlessly between his chipper, just-happy-to-be-here attitude about acting in a play about himself to sudden swells of pain and regret that consume everything on stage. Agada and Horst also provide a few appreciated moments of humor and levity as two lifelong friends who now spend their days cramped in the same ambulance waiting for bad news.
The one misstep may be the late introduction of Boo’s mother, Sallye (JoAnn Montemurro), toward whom both Boo the character and her real-life counterpart seem ambivalent. A flashback to parents and daughter stranded in a car is meant to echo the Thomas family’s struggle for survival, but the moment is far too tidy and overt for a tapestry that has, to this point, charmed with its wrinkles and frayed edges.
Ultimately, The Play About My Dad is a deeply-felt, often harrowing examination of the footprint left by a terrible monster. To look at it is to experience that old shock of feeling—the guilt and the pain. But it’s a feeling that, like this play, reveals a simple, beautiful truth: You survived.
Raven Theatre. By Boo Killebrew. Directed by Marti Lyons. With Patrick Agada, Nick Horst, Aaron Lamm, Joe Mack, JoAnn Montemurro, Paloma Nozicka, Miguel Nunez, Sandra Watson, Tuckie White. Running time: 1hr 30mins; one intermission.