Hurricane Katrina Blows Unevenly in 'FEMA's 1603'

By Nelson Pressley
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meet Looter Larry, one of the more colorful characters in Giani Clarkson's one-man "FEMA's 1603." Larry hawks toys, TVs, even a bit of beat-up bedding that he implausibly describes as a water mattress.

"There's water everywhere!" Larry reasons, looking for any angle as he tries to pawn off hot goods.

Irreverence is what Clarkson does best in this intermittently effective (and often quite serious) 50-minute venture at the Mead Theatre Lab that is part of Flashpoint's program for emerging artists. Larry is a comic highlight, as is the 6-year-old kid who blathers to an aid worker about how his mother is plotting to get government money. From time to time, the youngster adds: "My mom said keep quiet."

Then there's Franklin Emanuel McHale Allison (note the initials), a worker in a certain harried governmental department. (The show's title, by the way, is the disaster number assigned to Hurricane Katrina by said agency.) Clarkson's depiction of this official escalates from racially confrontational to fully manic, topped in its non-naturalistic imagination only by a brief monologue in which Clarkson portrays Katrina herself, miming movements to a female voice-over.

Intriguing as that concept is, the bit falls flat -- neither Clarkson nor director D. Wambui Richardson has a real idea of how this Katrina should act -- and playing the hurricane is one of the show's several uneven gambits. Clarkson, as a New Orleans evacuee, has his heart fully in this project, but his earnestness leads him toward some shopworn dramatic sketches: the flood victim ranting at God, a man pleading for help from helicopters circling ineffectually overhead. Those are thumbnail portraits, too short and too familiar to take us anywhere new.

Still, Clarkson has charm. Performing amid the small trash-strewn set (which features a TV beaming presumably significant images that are too tiny to be viewed well by the audience), Clarkson's best characterizations are bright and lively. When the writing surprises, the show works, which makes Looter Larry the man of the hour.

FEMA's 1603, written and performed by Giani Clarkson. Directed by D. Wambui Richardson. About 50 minutes. Through Jan. 25 at Flashpoint's Mead Theatre Lab, 916 G St. NW. Call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.flashpointdc.org.

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