‘Rising Water’ returns Katrina aftermath to center stage

John Biguenet’s play about a middle-aged couple trapped in an attic after Hurricane Katrina has the makings of an American theatrical classic.

“Rising Water,” by New Orleans native and Loyola professor Biguenet, has been around for seven years.

When the play is performed in New Orleans, audiences hang around to talk about what they’ve just seen and to remember that terrible night in August 2005 and the incredible days that followed.

The audience at Wednesday night’s performance of “Rising Water” at Studio Theatre in LSU’s Music and Dramatic Arts Building, didn’t wait until the end of the show to start talking about the play. Some of them found Biguenet in the hall at intermission.

Biguenet’s and New Orleans’ Katrina story is superbly played by stage veterans Christine McMurdo-Wallis and drama professor George Judy.

They play middle-aged man and wife, Sugar and Camille, who slowly realize that something unimaginable has happened in the night, after the storm has moved on.

Their lives, long marriage and little world of New Orleans have shrunk to the confines of the couple’s attic. There is water on the stairs leading to the attic. The water is rising.

McMurdo-Wallis, the first actress to play Camille when the play debuted in New Orleans in 2007, is so natural, so real, that you’re with her and Sugar in the attic from the first words of the play.

It’s tempting to say Judy puts on an acting clinic for drama students in the audience, but that wouldn’t do him justice as an actor. Judy is just good as Sugar.

Two hours, including one intermission, of two people in an attic could be a long two hours if it weren’t for Biguenet’s masterful writing and Judy’s and McMurdo-Wallis’ performances. Biguenet provides comic relief in the writing. Judy knows what to do with it.

Benjamin Koucherik and Judy co-direct “Rising Water.”

LSU theater’s set design credits have changed in the last two shows on campus. If set direction and construction are in transition, the change is going nicely. Mathew Duvall and company’s set for “Rising Water” is the play’s third actor.

“Rising Water” is the first in a trilogy. “Shotgun” runs through March 17 at Acting Unlimited in Lafayette. “Mold” is at New Orleans’ Southern Repertory Theatre from March 20 through April 14.

The audience is invited to leave notes as they leave the theater.

Wednesday night, there were these notes among the comments stuck to a wall outside Studio Theatre:

“Katrina made me realize how vulnerable we are on the Gulf Coast. Have we made any progress.”

And: “My uncle was lost for four days. We found him in a shelter eating red beans and rice, smiling and safe.”