The Volunteer Impulse Is on Display in Katrina Doc After the Storm


The full spectrum of the volunteer impulse—from pure self-sacrifice to dubious self-congratulation—is on display in After the Storm, a documentary about three Broadway swells who visit post-Katrina New Orleans to help some local high-schoolers put on a show. Revitalizing a ruined community center is their stated goal, although, in a candid moment, the play’s director admits he came to Louisiana believing he could “save [the kids] from their storm experience.” A similar hubris, perhaps, led the trio of New Yorkers to believe they could cast, choreograph, and arrange the “hurricane musical” Once On This Island within the six weeks they carved into their schedules. All of the fluffy, Guffman-esque community theater drama is grounded by the glimpses of each of the performers’ devastated homes and fragmented families. The class and cultural tension that exists between the well-intentioned city slickers and underprivileged kids is unavoidable, and director Hilla Medalia lets it settle evenly, refusing to judge. Most touching is the escape the kids find in performance; it’s clearly the opportunity they have been waiting for—storm or no storm—and they tear into it with the wisdom and appreciation only hard times can bring to those who are so young.