Camille has been trapped in the attic since 2007, but even a person whose world is four walls and a slate roof can change.
And she has.
“She can’t help it, because a lot of things have happened in that time, and I’ve changed,” Cristine McMurdo-Wallis said.
She’ll be playing Camille in Swine Palace’s production of John Biguenet’s drama, Rising Water, which opens Friday, March 8, in the Studio Theatre in the LSU Music & Dramatic Arts Building.
McMurdo-Wallis actually is reprising this role. She was the first actress to play Camille when the play debuted in April 2007 at Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans.
The story is about a couple who climb into the attic of their New Orleans home to escape floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Time has put some distance between the storm and its victims.
Now, this doesn’t mean Rising Water is changing. Camille’s lines won’t be different. But the feeling behind them will.
“It’s six years later,” McMurdo-Wallis said. “Things are different. And it will make it even more interesting to see the audience’s reaction this time around. It’ll be interesting to watch them come back to it.”
Rising Water tells the story of Sugar and Camille, who have been married for more than 30 years. They awake one night to find their house filling with water.
So, they climb to the safety of their attic. The attic filled with memories of their life together.
And it’s there where they speculate about their lives and relationship, battling a flood of feelings.
“They have no choice but to face their lives and reevaluate them,” Ben Koucherik said. “And they must decide if they should move forward or start over.”
Koucherik is a student in the LSU Department of Theatre’s Master of Fine Arts program. He also is co-directing this play with George Judy. Judy heads the Master of Fine Arts Program and is Swine Palace’s artistic director. He also plays Sugar in this production.
“It’s really been an honor to be able to direct George in this show,” Koucherik said. “It’s a privilege to work with both George and Christine.”
“And we’ve learned a lot from Ben,” Judy said. “He brings a different perspective. He watches it from the outside and discusses it with us, which sometimes changes our direction.”
Judy and McMurdo-Wallis were in costume for this particular rehearsal, meaning Judy wore a pair of pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, and McMurdo-Wallis wore a nightgown. It makes sense. Anyone escaping fast rising water in the middle of the night wouldn’t have time to grab a change of clothes before climbing the stairs.
And once surrounded by mementos from more than three decades of marriage, it’s only a matter of time before they start rummaging through it all. And remembering.
“What’s so great about this play is how it speaks to the resiliency of the people here,” Koucherik said.
Koucherik is a Colorado native. He’ll graduate in May, so he’s working on his thesis while directing this play. He’s also working on a film project with his fellow graduate students, and he’ll be acting in Swing Palace’s production of All The King’s Men in April.
So, he’s busy, yet he wouldn’t have passed up the chance to direct this play.
“George is my mentor,” Koucherik said. “This is a collaborative effort. And all three of us will be involved in All The King’s Men in April.”
Rising Water, meantime, is based on Biguenet’s New York Times column, “How They Died.” The play is the winner of the 2006 National New Play Network Commission Award, is a 2006 National Showcase of New Plays selection and is a 2007 recipient of an Access to Artistic Excellence development and production grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The play also received a Big Easy Award for Best Original Play after its 2007 premiere and is the first of a trilogy.
The second play, Shotgun, will be performed by Acting Unlimited in Lafayette in tandem with Swine Palace’s production. It opens Saturday, March 9.
Southern Repertory Theatre will complete the series when it opens the third play, Mold, on Wednesday, March 20.
“We are honored to be a part of this opportunity to present all three plays to the public,” Judy said.
And audiences who saw Southern Repertory Theatre’s production of this play can expect a different show this time around.
“This couple is so New Orleans,” McMurdo-Wallis said. “And this play has its funny parts. These people are facing this disaster in a special way. They either have to laugh of kill themselves.”
So, they decide to explore, remember, talk and, yes, laugh.
But this time around, McMurdo-Wallis’ perspective of Camille is different.
As is the show.
Cast: George Judy, Sugar; Cristine McMurdo-Wallis, Camille; John Cleere, Musician.
Artistic staff: Ben Koucherik, director; Ken White, lighting designer; Mathew Duvall, scenic designer; Kate Brittingham. props master; EJ Cho, sound designer; Chris Pyfrom, assistant sound designer; Lauren Stefanski., assistant sound designer; Brandon McWilliams, costume designer.
Production staff: Jim Bussolati, props master/mentor; Abeo Brown, costume shop manager; Elise Masur, scenic shop manager; Pat Acampora, facilities manager.
Stage management: Tim Weber, stage manager; Megan Lenox, assistant stage manager.
Administration: Kristin Sosnowsky, managing director; George Judy, artistic director; Karli Henderson, marketing director.