The water-logged devastation of Hurricane Katrina might seem like old news right now. The story in New Orleans today—nearly a year-and-a-half later—is that of a city barely hiccupping back to life. But perhaps just enough time has passed for playwrights to start cataloguing the damage. Unlike last year’s dreadful “Katrina: State of Emergency” (seen at the Bailiwick), Shepsu Aakhu’s “Trouble the Water” (for MPAACT at Victory Gardens Greenhouse) puts the focus squarely on African-Americans. This feels right; pre-Katrina, the New Orleans population was roughly seventy percent African-American. This was, in many ways, an overwhelmingly African-American experience. Aakhu’s fictional vignettes—laced with African-inspired dance and chanting—sometimes feel too ambitious, but they gain emotional potency over the course of the play’s two-hour running time. There is nothing you haven’t heard before—a mother separated from her daughter during the evacuation; the claustrophobia of those trapped in their homes by the rising waters—but the stories work their mojo all the same, thanks to the excellent eleven-member cast. (There is a striking moment when a woman pushes two dead bodies from her house, and they slowly float and drift away.) Director Mignon McPherson Nance has a nice understated way with the magical realism of the script—ghostly ancestors from slave ships in Africa act as guardian angels, and it is a subtle rather than overtly cloying device. This is not a flashy show—and some of its artier moments feel forced—but it is honest and well-acted. You can’t ask for more. (Nina Metz)
Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln, (773)871-3000. Thu-Fri 8:30pm/Sat 8pm/Sun 3:30pm. $19.50-$22.50. Through Jun 10.