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The Severna Park Voice

Show Tells Stories of Katrina, Raises Recovery Funds
by Sharon Mager
September 10th, 2009

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Siobhan O’Loughlin adopted the personas of a wide variety of New Orleans characters devastated by Hurricane Katrina in the one-woman show titled, ”The Rope in Your Hands.”

Siobhan O’Loughlin’s presentation of the one-woman show, ”The Rope in Your Hands,” at the Chesapeake Arts Center, gave an artistic voice to Hurricane Katrina victims and raised over $1200 for Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians Village, a project to build homes for displaced musicians in New Orleans. The performance given by the young wirter and actress coincided with the fourth anniversary of Katrina’s devastating second landfall. O’Loughlin, a recent graduate of Towson University, kept the audience entranced for the hour long performance as she assumed the characters of 13 Katrina victims. Those she represents are real survivors who O’Loughlin met while gutting houses in New Orleans during a 2007 spring break. She interviewed a diverse group of the people and expertly weaved their stories, filled with a mixture of sadness, anger, hope and determined perseverance into her show.Dressed in black, against a backdrop of video showing New Orleans and pictures fo the devastation, O’Loughlin moved flawlessly from one character to the next changing her stance, her voice and seemingly even her facial appearances. She sat primly and spoke like a southern belle when portraying Charlotte Maheu, a 30-year-old university administrator.

”New Orleans lacked color,” O’Loughlin as Maheu drawled. ”It was underwater for so long it killed the grass… what the water didn’t kill, the mold pretty much did,” she said, expertly voicing the angst. As 26-year-old Steve Hoeschele, O’Loughlin put her foot up on a chair and took on the persona of the hip young construction crew chief. As Hoeschele’s character developed through the night the audience saw the young man go from a self-assured young man to a traumatized victim. Hoeschele described the feelings he experienced as he found clothing, toys and other belongings left in homes by storm-ravaged families.

”We could piece together their lives,” O’Loughlin as Hoeschele said softly.

As she spoke for 57-year old engineer Claude Owens, the audience heard the underlying desperation as Owens said in his deep gravelly Louisiana voice, ”You’ve got to see it for yourself.” Owens stressed that seeing the true picture means seeing it before the bodies were buried. ”There should have been a military invasion,” he said with passion, ”If a man is drowning, you save him.” The actress as engineer spat, ”You don’t debate about throwing the rope. You keep a man alive.” As a preacher, O’Loughlin rolled her voice pronouncing that judgement had come to New Orleans. Then the audience snickered as O’Loughlin portrayed Jesse the Jester, as he flirted with her while she interviewed him. ”Do you have a boyfriend?” She drawled, sawing back and forth. Jesse told stories about people heading to the superdome, about folks getting killed for their shoes. O’Loughlin sat in her chair, leaned forward and scratched her chin, as she became Alan Rice, a 54-year-old Englishman with a sister who lives in New Orleans. Rice came to lend a hand and told stories of seeing the holes in the attics as he gutted houes. ”To rely on volunteers is okay, but you’ve got to do more,” O’Loughlin, as Rice, said in a heavy British accent. As jazz musician Nobu Ozaki, O’Loughlin said the whole affair reminded her of a jazz funeral. The band follows the family to the burial playing a dirge and afterward they play more upbeat music and others join in on the march. The ones who join in really didn’t know the person who died, didn’t see the death, but they’re joining in the march for support. The initial musicians are the first line. The second line falls in behind them. Ozaki likened thos who came post Katrina to the second line.

O’Loughlin spoke in a child’s voice as 7-year-old Hailey Ducote, who offered the most appropriate conclusion to the powerful performance: ”I just don’t want it to happen again. I love New Orleans.”