Appropriated disaster

Hosted by

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Against the backdrop of one catastrophic hurricane after another, Jeremy J. Kamps’ play Runaway Home should be especially poignant.

We're in the lower ninth ward sometime after Katrina. The water is gone but the devastation is just hitting home. The streets are littered with piles of personal belongings separated into soaked memories and moldy trash. Homes are being bulldozed without anyone's permission. Everything is unsettled.

People are finally returning from Baton Rouge where they were carted off like refugees. Even though they're home things are still a mess. Eunice just read her teenage daughter Kali's diary and discovered that she's pregnant (or at least that's what the diary says). Before the play opens the two got in an ugly fight and Kali decided to run away from home.

Part of Eunice feels like good riddance. She doesn't even feel like her daughter's mother. It was her mom who really took care of both of them and she died, especially tragically, during the flooding.

This sounds like a lot doesn't it? I haven't even gotten to the white anarchist or the presumably undocumented Mexican or the activist neighbor or the born again missing boyfriend.

The challenge with Runaway Home is it feels more like a series of discrete plotted episodes than scenes building toward a unified whole. It's one of those plays where you can almost see the index cards pinned to the playwright's wall. This dramatic thing happens then she'll get the gun then find her tragic father figure -- et cetera.

The production tries to tie the transitions together with sound cues that underscore poetic sequences that are cut between scenes, but rather than helping it all feels like too much work. It's as if the story is being forced on you.

The play’s real shortcomings become apparent at its dramatic climax. I'll try not to spoil too much for you. Suffice it to say, that our mother longs for a reunion with her daughter having rediscovered her maternal instinct but, as so often happens in real life, the gun the teenager got from the white anarchist has fallen into someone else's hand and, wouldn't you know it -- tragedy ...gunshot...dramatic light cue -- oh no.

Until moments later, when everything seems to be just fine for reasons that, even if I wanted to explain them to you I couldn't.

The real tragedy is there is a profound story in the aftermath of Katrina and this isn't it. Instead this feels like an appropriated tale where teenage pregnancy and anarchy are just convenient plot points and people's lives can be picked through like so much soaked junk on the street.

You can safely skip Runaway Home.

If you're longing for a play that deals with the aftermath of a deluge, instead go see Phylicia Rashad's virtuosic performance in Head of Passes at the Mark Taper Forum.

Runaway Home plays at the Fountain Theater in Hollywood through November 5.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out:

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Camille Spirlin and Maya Lynne Robinson in Runaway Home