The Cone of Uncertainty: New Orleans After Katrina
Also see Rosemary's review of The Maids
As docents at the National Hispanic Cultural Center scanned tickets for Jose Torres Tama's The Cone of Uncertainty: New Orleans After Katrina, the audience was instructed to wait in the lobby of the Roy W. Disney Center for the Performing Arts until the house opened at 8 p.m., the scheduled start time for the performance. As the small crowd processed into the Albuquerque Journal Theatre, Tama was seated in the center of the stage at a desk adorned with goblets, candles, masks, voodoo-style ephemera and, conspicuously out of place, a white MacBook. The smell of incense permeated the cavernous space, suggesting the sensory experience of being in church. Tama's desk was surrounded by five suspended flags: the current American flag, an original National flag, an American gay pride flag, The Confederate "Rebel" flag and, lastly, an American flag with fifty easily recognizable corporate logos (NBC Peacock, Nike Swoosh, McDonald's arches) replacing the traditional white stars.
Though the tickets specified assigned seats, Tama encouraged the audience to fill the orchestra section, shortening the distance between solo performer and audience. To begin the performance, Tama let out a high pitched howl and instructed the audience to do the same, starting again and again until the howls around the room were loud enough to satisfy his demands. Almost immediately, an amateur film was projected behind Tama; the all too familiar images of trees whipping in the wind, cars almost entirely submerged under water, and residents of New Orleans looking literally beaten by the weather reminded the audience that Katrina appears in the subtitle of this show. Like many solo performance artists, Tama's performance was comprised of vignettes featuring his own personal narrative and devised characters often distinguished by the wearing of masks.
Tama's own press material suggests that this is a show about his own experience of being exiled from New Orleans, leaving shortly after Katrina on a commandeered yellow school bus. However, that intriguing story is only hinted at throughout the production. Instead, Tama spends his almost two hours on stage offering quick sound-bites about topics that include: Hotel Rwanda, Japanese Internment, Exile, Criminal Corporate Practices, Compassionate Conservatism, The Negative Power of Television, White Power and the Deportation of Mexican Workers in Post-Katrina New Orleans.
While any one of these issues contains significant material for excavation through solo-performance, Tama doesn't allow himself the time to establish a position on any singular issue. It seems enough for him to speak the names of these subjects and let us wonder how they might connect to the national tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. While the performance was unquestionably politically charged, Tama worked to include humor in the performance. However, when the audience failed to laugh at his jokes, he repeatedly said, "Don't worry, you'll get that joke on the way home" or "I guess that joke didn't play in Albuquerque." Because these phrases were repeated no fewer than a combined ten times, they failed to ingratiate him to the local audience.
At the end of his performance, lights were raised and Tama encouraged the audience to ask questions about his work. During this interrogatory session, Tama revealed that he has since returned to New Orleans and, because of the catastrophic economic and housing climate, was recently able to afford his own home. After being asked to think about how corporations and right-wing politicians have benefitted from Katrina for two hours, it was jarring to hear the performer casually mention that he too has benefitted from national tragedy.
From beginning to end, Jose Torres Tama makes choices; but their objectives are never crystallized. Why was the audience sequestered to the lobby before the production began? Why did the performance begin with a howl? Why is a gay pride flag included in a collection with negative social implications? Though the show mentions important issues, the thesis of Tama's work is uncertain indeed.
The Cone of Uncertainty: New Orleans After Katrina by Jose Torres Tama was co-presented by The Tricklock Company Revolutions International Theatre Festival and the National Hispanic Cultural Center on January 21 and 22, 2011. The 11th Annual Revolutions International Theatre Festival runs through January 30th with performances in The National Hispanic Cultural Center, UNM's Theatre X, The Filling Station, UNM's Rodey Theatre and The Box. A complete calendar of information and reservation information is available at www.tricklock.com/revolutions.