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Anne Arundel Community College Campus Current

The Rope in Your Hands Shows Realities of Katrina

by Matt Hagerman

Current Staff Writer

September 9th, 2009

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Hurricane Katrina changed New Orleans forever. Some 2,000 people died in and around the Crescent City as whole neighborhoods perished. Many drowned while others dehydrated. Some were murdered. A real American lesson, live on cable news.

On Aug. 29, 2009, the four-year anniversary of the storm was honored at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, with the professional debut of The Rope in Your Hands, a one-woman show written and performed by Siobhan O’Loughlin. In it, the 21-year old writer, perform activist and recent Towson University graduate bravely inhabits 13 different New Orleans personalities and tells their stories. Taken verbatim from interviews O’Loughlin did while gutting houses in New Orleans for ACORN – Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – her characters ranged from a 7-year-old girl to a 64-year-old man. She never faltered, using a chair as her only prop and a slide projector as the only scenery in the dark Studio 194 Theatre. O’Loughlin eases in to the tragedy with insight from people like Vivienne Federico, who believes New Orleans is so beautiful that you can look at it every day and it still looks new again, to street performer Jesse the Jester who loves the ”alcoholic’s paradise” he works in.

But soon enough we are on the evacuation route with one woman, and hearing horror stories from another man. O’Loughlin jumps back and forth between the 13 subjects as their stories unfold. Although some offer signs of hope, we cannot escape the fact that women were raped in the aisles of the Superdome, the humanitarian response was painfully slow, and many locals still believe that the government blew up the levees that would have protected much of the city during the storm.

The title of the play was inspired by Claude Owens, who did not believe the government really wanted to help so many stranded citizens.

”You don’t debate about where or not you throw a man a rope,” Owens rails. ”If he’s already drowning, throw the damn rope!”

A 54-year old British man and ACORN volunteer appears late in the show and recounts a day when another volunteer asked him if he was ”having fun.” His angry response is full of perspective and is perhaps the finest moment of the play and one of many reasons O’Loughlin felt compelled to write this show.

New Orleans native Dr. Allan Halle, a guest of CAC Executive Director Davina Grace Hill, who also hails from that city, enjoyed the performance but agreed that New Orleans would never be the same again.

”People you always thought would be there are gone,” he said.

O’Loughlin hopes shows ”The Rope in Your Hands” can spark a dialogue in other places like New Orleans where thousands know what it means to be trapped in a city.

”We need more community.” She insists. O’Loughlin says her acting has helped her see the good in people.

An appreciative crowd of about 75, including some 20 Towson students, donated over $600 to Habitat for Humanity and the Arts Center which was matched by Director Hill. More than one left talking about O’Loughlin’s bright future.

As the parking lot emptied, it began to rain.