Mount Prospect resident brings Katrina experience to stage

One day before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, actress Danon Dastugue grabbed her cat and evacuated north to Lafayette, Louisiana.

She stayed there while the horrifying hurricane tore through her hometown of St. Charles Parish, a suburb of New Orleans.

Ten days later, she returned to a city in ruin.

“When I finally got the nerve to drive through New Orleans, I remember getting to a point where there were pieces of trash, boats and cars all over the streets,” Dastugue said. “They had gone from house to house to check if people were alive or dead, and they drew up the numbers. It was devastating.”

Now, for the 10-year anniversary of the storm, current Mount Prospect resident Dastugue will re-create the event and its aftermath in the dark comedy “Katrina: Mother-in-Law of 'Em All.”

Presented by Interrobang Theatre Project, the show runs Friday, Sept. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 4, at The Den Theatre in Chicago. The story, featuring six actors and one musician, revolves around the stories of hurricane survivors as they gather together at a small replica of Mother-in-Law Lounge, located in New Orleans' Treme neighborhood.

Dastugue plays a number of roles including a hurricane survivor named Judy. The character is a change of pace for Dastugue, who usually performs in larger-than-life roles.

“Judy is a quiet, sweet woman who tells her story,” Dastugue said. “She owns ferrets and is a slightly conservative woman. I usually play very funny animated characters. In this case, I play a very reserved person, and then the characters I play in the other scenes are more lively.”

At first, Dastugue was hesitant to be a part of the production because she feared rehashing memories of Katrina's aftermath. The storm didn't directly damage her home or job, but affected the daily lives of many friends and family members.

Coincidentally, when she saw the show's audition notice, she discovered that she knew the play's director, Georgette Verdin, and playwright, Rob Florence, from New Orleans.

“It was the universe telling me to do it,” Dastugue said.

After months of rehearsals, Dastugue is glad she gave the play a chance.

“This is a very character-driven show that people in Chicago will love,” Dastugue said. “They will relate to the flavors and the diversity.”

Besides acting professionally since 1977, Dastugue has been a teacher for 20 years. She moved to Chicago to pursue more performing opportunities in 2007 and has lived in Mount Prospect since 2012. She teaches public speaking classes at different colleges in the area, including Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

Although living in the area has provided her with many performing experiences, she often misses her home in Louisiana.

“Ten years later we must remember (Katrina),” Dastugue said. “We also should never forget the problems or errors that happened after. A lot was underestimated and not enough action was taken.”

Besides bringing these questions and tragic experiences to mind, the play also holds a message of hope — for survivors of the hurricane and for New Orleans itself.

“It was mind-blowing how many people came to help us,” Dastugue said. “It makes me proud to be American. I hope that we entertain, and I want to make people feel and think.”

“Katrina: Mother-in-Law of 'Em All”

<b>Where:</b> The Den Theatre Mainstage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (773) 888-2264 or <a href=""></a>

<b>Showtimes:</b> Previews at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 4-5. Regular run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, from Sept. 10 through Oct. 4

<b>Tickets:</b> $10-$20

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