GA News: Drama reveals saga of Katrina victims, responders

SAN JOSE — Five simple cots, random pieces of clothing and a host of chairs and suitcases littered the stage at the Club Regent at the Fairmont Hotel here, temporarily transforming the elegant space into a makeshift homeless shelter in Baton Rouge, LA, for the stage play, “The Name of the Rain.”


Presented by the Presbytery of South Louisiana‚s Project

Homecoming, The Name of the Rain tells the stories of both those who responded and those who sought shelter at the Broadmoor Church in Baton Rouge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The play, which was written by Broadmoor’s pastor, the Rev. Hawley Wolfe, also features his daughter Leah, one of the founders of the shelter on which the drama is based. The troupe of professional actors concludes its current two-week tour with two performances at the 218th General Assembly (2008) here.

“New Orleans can’t rebuild itself,‰ said Leah Wolfe, currently a student at Louisiana State University, who with four other college students took the initiative to open the shelter in August 2005. “There was a lot of help at first, which has decreased over time. It‚s great that we can bring national attention to the needs through this play.”

As the drama unfolds, the varied cast of characters assemble at the shelter – including a songwriter, a medical student, a nursing home employee and a prostitute — and share their experiences one by one. As one guest, Charlene, begins her story, she affirms, „I am living proof that God is real. He has delivered me from the eye of the storm.”

Sarah Leer, a young adult volunteer with the Presbyterian

Church (U.S.A.), is the play’s stage manager and co-producer. She marveled that the actors‚ own stories, as natives of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, so closely parallel the characters they portray. “The people who came to audition,” Leer said, “were meant to be in the show.”

Central to the story of the unexpected friendships, reconciliation and healing that are forged in the church shelter is the character of Pastor Jo, sensitively portrayed by Katryn Schmidt, who gives voice to hope of Jesus Christ in the midst of pain and suffering. At a critical moment, the pastor gives reassurance to a shelter guest, who has asked whether God hates them. “How could God hate anything that He made?” she says. “God is suffering with us right now. Jesus died for us on a wooden cross and we are dying on a watery cross. Just keep holding on to his hand.”

Leer’s hope in exposing new audiences to “The Name of the Rain” is that individuals and groups will be inspired to contribute to the rebuilding efforts. “I would like people to come and volunteer because New Orleans is not rebuilt yet,” she said. “The further we get from the storm, the more the collective memory is waning.” Funds raised by the play benefit low income, uninsured, underinsured, elderly and/or disabled individuals and families. The money goes directly to needy homeowners in the form of building materials, furniture and professional services.

“Drama is a way to draw people into real life experiences,”

said the Rev. Jean Marie Peacock, associate presbyter pro tem for the Presbytery of South Louisiana and vice moderator of the 216th General Assembly. “We have found it to be a powerful medium to continue to raise awareness about the critical needs and the ongoing recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast.”

“The Name of the Rain”, which takes its name from the question a child raised during a subsequent storm, “What’s the name of this rain?˜ will be presented again on Tuesday, June 24, at 6:00 p.m. at the Fairmont Hotel’s Club Regent.