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Biguenet's Rising Water held over until May 6

Loyola press release - March 6, 2007

(New Orleans)— Loyola University New Orleans professor, playwright, and author John Biguenet’s play, Rising Water, premiered at Southern Rep Theatre at Canal Place last month. The production has been held over until May 6. Originally scheduled to run March 14 through April 8, 2007, the show will continue with performances on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

In Rising Water, a couple awaken in the middle of the night to find their pitch-dark house filling with water and rush to the attic. Trapped with a lifetime of possessions and memories, they wait for rescue, speculating over what has happened and exploring their relationship, assailed by a flood of secrets and feelings.

You can see the Times-Picayune's slide show about Rising Water with excerpts of dialog at http://www.nola.com/photos/t-p/index.ssf?Waters

Winner of the 2006 National New Play Network Commission Award, a 2006 National Showcase of New Plays selection, and a 2007 recipient of an Access to Artistic Excellence development and production grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, John Biguenet’s Rising Water has earned honors even before its world premiere on Southern Rep’s stage.

Biguenet is the Robert Hunter Distinguished Professor at Loyola University New Orleans, where he has been honored with the institution's Dux Academicus award for outstanding teaching, scholarship, and service. He began Rising Water in March 2006 as an expansion of a column he wrote for the New York Times entitled “How They Died.” Surprised at the number of deaths from drowning, dehydration, and exhaustion, Biguenet began to explore how individuals were trapped by the levee collapses and what it was like for people, awakened in the night by rising water, who rushed to attics and roofs, and then waited for help that never came.

Biguenet’s research for the play prompted him to learn the science behind what had happened from Dr. Bob Thomas, Loyola University New Orleans Chair in Environmental Communications. He also collected anecdotes from survivors. “Early versions of the play were angry,” said Biguenet. Eventually, he achieved some emotional distance by casting the play in blank verse. The unrhymed iambic pentameter allowed Biguenet to go more deeply into the subject. And the deeper he went into it, the more local and specific it became.

That is why Biguenet feels that if the play is to travel outside of New Orleans, it would have to be rewritten. “I take for granted that the audience knows the city and its traditions,” he said of his work. But when asked what he sees for the future of the play, Biguenet is more concerned about making sure that New Orleans residents feel it is an accurate portrayal of what happened. “Rising Water is a play by a New Orleanian for New Orleanians,” said Biguenet. But he makes sure to point out numerous times, “This is only one story out of thousands from that terrible week after the levees collapsed.”

The playwright found that the circumstances also served as a metaphor. Rising Water explores how people, such as the trapped couple, go on loving each other as they get older and death creeps up on them. The persistence of the past and whether or not we can escape it are themes explored. It is a play full of ghost stories—and a great deal of humor.

Dr. Melanie McKay, associate professor of English at Loyola, is taking her “New Orleans Texts and Contexts” class to see the play. This class, which is linked to Associate Professor of History Mark Fernandez’s “New Orleans Culture and Community” history class, was designated a “Katrina Class” last year. “This play seems like the perfect literary experience for students as it is written by a leading New Orleans author and dramatizes Katrina for the people of New Orleans,” said McKay.

Biguenet’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared recently in such publications as The New York Times, Esquire, Granta (London), and Storie (Rome), as well as in various anthologies. Among his books are Oyster, a novel, and The Torturer's Apprentice: Stories. His stage play, The Vulgar Soul, was presented in the 2004 Festival of New Southern Plays and was part of the 2004-2005 season of Southern Rep. His work has received an O. Henry Award and a Harper's Magazine Writing Award, among other distinctions. He has served two terms as president of the American Literary Translators Association. He is currently working on a novel set in the 1950s about the integration of New Orleans.

In comparison to his other work, Biguenet said, “It’s difficult to find an appropriate form to tell the story of a catastrophe on this scale.” He worked closely with Southern Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette, attending rehearsals and continuing to modify the script. The most recent incarnation of the play is only a few days old.

Rising Water stars Danny Bowen and Cristine McMurdo-Wallis. Rising Water is the first of two plays Southern Rep commissioned in response to Hurricane Katrina, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and BellSouth. The second of those plays, The Breach, by Catherine Filloux, Tarell McCraney and Joe Sutton, will be staged at Southern Rep in September.

Tickets for Rising Water are $15-$30. Call (504) 522-6545, visit the box office on the 3rd floor of The Shops at Canal Place on the days of performance, or www.southernrep.com

Loyola University New Orleans is a Jesuit-Catholic institution with a total student enrollment of 4,724 including 800 law students.