“All this happened, more or less.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
As much a memoir as a chronicle of the people of Mississippi, Boo Killebrew’s meta-narrative The Play About My Dad is a nod in the directon of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While it isn’t a ‘memory play’ (at least not in the way that’s used to describe Tennesse Williams’ The Glass Menagerie) Killebrew’s relationship with her father ‘frames’ the events that led to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Played by Hannah Britland and David Schaal respectively, it’s obvious from the off that the Killebrews have a good rapport. ‘Boo’ wants to try out her new play, which Larry, her father is game for. However, his idea about what the play is about and the topics Boo wants to explore are a tad different…
Time and its depiction play a big part, with the Killebrews looking at their own relationship as written scenes. While ‘Boo’ has to walk her dad through the ins-and-outs about playing ‘himself’, there is immediate agreement on the importance of the other people in the narrative.
Emergency Medical Technicians Kenny Tyson (Ammar Duffus) and Neil Plitt (Nathan Welsh) stay at their post for their 18-hour shift. While Neil tries to ‘ground’ the conversation into ‘everyday’ subjects such as their childhood and old girlfriends, Kenny is convinced that he ‘time travels’ along his own timeline – an ability he shares with the likes of Henry DeTamble in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. While he’s sanguine about his own life, Kenny can’t shake the feeling that during his mother’s last days, she hadn’t found the answers she was looking for to life’s questions and not found closure.
L-R: T’jai Adu-Yeboah, Joel Lawes and Annabel Bates
Meanwhile, Essie Watson (Miquel Brown) who has links with both Larry and Kenny, reminisces about her own life. The oncoming storm reminds Essie how both she and her daughter Anna would love the “safe danger” of being holed up during hurricanes. Sadly, Anna wouldn’t see her when she succumbed to cancer – perhaps to spare her mother the pain of seeing her fade away before her eyes. The parent-child dynamic is also explored with the Thomases, who decide to ride out the storm at home. Rena (Annabel Bates) and Jay (Joel Lawes) try to assauge the fear of their son Michael (T’jai Adu-Yeboah). However, flooding of the ground floor prompts their exodus to the roof, leading to tough choices ahead…
Objectively, Killebrew’s play has an unorthodox premise and potentially could be ‘messy’, or show ciphers instead of fully-fledged characters. However, under Stella Powell-Jones’ directon, the synergy between the threads and characters is evident, and the play doesn’t come across as trying to be ‘clever’.
When depicting a community facing a natural disaster, the notion of lives intersecting is a given. However, while ‘Katrina’ is the backdrop for the respective threads, it is in many ways a catalyst for the play’s emotional core, as well as a metaphor for life’s changes that one has no control of. Seen in this context, the play scrutinises Boo and Larry’s rocky relationship at that time and what they’ve had to ‘weather’ to reach where they are today.
But with the respective views of the past, is the ‘truth’ actually being addressed? Killebrew takes a leaf from Briony in Ian McEwan’s Atonement who talks about what purpose is served by telling just the ‘facts’ – the ‘true’, but sterile version of a tale. By being a character in her own story, Killebrew gets to coax out the emotional truth that’s present, but hidden beneath ‘events’.
© Michael Davis 2018
The Play About My Dad runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 21st July.