Lifting the Lower Ninth

Is it too soon to make Katrina into art?

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This is not Willimon's first foray into contemporary historical drama. "Farragut North," a portrait of the machinations surrounding the 2004 presidential campaign, is headed for Broadway. But he doesn't consider himself a documentarist. "I don't write political plays that are dogmatic, or have a message," he says. "It happened. My goal was not to ambulance-chase; it was just about letting something come out naturally."

The attention will be welcomed. Two and a half years after Katrina inundated New Orleans and sent its poorest residents into anguished exile, crime in the city is still at a national high and infighting over scheduled redevelopment remains a disappointing political reality.

Others have joined the fight—from Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke to movies like Déjà Vu, shot on location in New Orleans, to a version of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot based on Katrina, the culture industry is repaying debts to the city that has produced decades of American art.

While the plot of "Lower Ninth" is at times banal—no more complex than E-Z's search for a father figure—the universally-known backdrop also highlights the true import of the young boy's biblical name. For when the prophet Ezekiel had his vision in the Valley of Dry Bones it was a revelation about rebirth and resurrection from the dead.

And though the Katrina dead were mostly victims of a sudden sea, the verse may best describe the hope for the future of New Orleans. "O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you will live."

"Lower Ninth" is playing at the Flea Theater through April 5.

Dayo Olopade is a regular contributor to The Root.

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.