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The Play About My Dad

Boo Killebrew
Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre

Juliet Cowan (Sallye Killebrew) Hannah Britland (Boo Killebrew) David Schaal (Larry Killebrew) Credit: Harry Livingstone
Neil Plitt (Nathan Welsh) and Kenny Tyson (Ammar Duffus) Credit: Harry Livingstone
Ammar Duffus (Kenny Tyson) Miquel Brown (Essie Watson) Credit: Harry Livingstone

Boo Killebrew was living in Manhattan in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast where her estranged father, Larry (David Schaal), was working as a doctor in the Gulfport hospital.

The dangers facing him and other people she knew during those terrifying days helped shape the unusual structure of a play that centres not on the politics or the horror of the event but on Boo’s relationship with her dad.

That relationship is instantly on show as they are turned into the narrators who are creating the play in front of us. They speak to each other and the audience. At times they step into the Katrina play they are making to enact scenes. Larry introduces us to the other characters.

There is the eighty-year-old Essie Watson (Miquel Brown) who looked after Larry when he was a child. She lives alone and cannot be persuaded to stay at the hospital or Larry’s house during the storm. She points out it wasn’t necessary during the earlier Hurricane Camille.

A similar decision is being made by the Thomas family who don’t want to take time out of work to travel away from the storm.

It is work as Emergency Medical Technicians that keep Kenny Tyson (Ammar Duffus) and Neil Plitt (Nathan Welsh) stuck in an ambulance as the flood waters begin to rise around them.

Kenny occasionally travels backward and forward in time (in a similar way to Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five). Having already travelled to the day we meet him, he can tell Neil it’s the day they will die. Neil tells him that is just the way “your whacked-out brain copes with things.”

While they wait for work, he travels back to a childhood conversation about family with Essie and to the games he used to play with Boo.

Inserted between the Katrina scenes are key moments Boo recalls from her own history with her dad.

There is the time she is sitting as a child in the family car which has broken down. She has a fear she will lose him when he has to leave them in order to walk miles for fuel.

More recently, there is the hard news that Larry’s new wife has insisted he have no more contact with Boo.

We never see or hear the storm except in the subtle change of lighting and the facial expressions of the characters.

The sensitive pacing of director Stella Powell-Jones and the actors’ fine performances help generate an almost dreamlike quality to events depicted.

In style and mood, the play is reminiscent of Wilder’s Our Town. It’s an affectionate portrait of a community lost to the hurricane and a father and daughter rekindling their relationship.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna