University of Rochester

EVENT: Hurricane Katrina Inspires the Reinvention of a Theatrical Masterpiece

October 2, 2006

A contemporary and thought-provoking adaptation of The Lower Depths, Maxim Gorky's masterpiece about the struggles of the underclass, opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at the University of Rochester's Todd Theatre on the River Campus.

International Theater Program Artistic Director Nigel Maister has moved the setting of the work from turn-of-the-century tsarist Russia to the raw and violent world of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Highlighting the dynamic interactions between survivors, the play runs at 8 p.m. Oct. 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, and 28, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 22.

Gorky uses deception and seduction in The Lower Depths to display human nature and emotion in their most basic form. As the characters rebuild their lives, they are challenged by illness, death, adultery, and a redefined class structure. Maister's provocative retelling shows that the harsh truths illustrated in this daring adaptation prove to be just as relevant today as they were in Gorky's original setting.

"The heartbreaking plight of Katrina victims and the inadequate response made immediate parallels in my mind between the hurricane survivors and Gorky's characters," Maister said. "Both struggle to realize their humanity in an antagonistic world."

Behind the scenes, the University of Rochester International Theatre Program brings together the talents of visionary professional production artists. The Lower Depths is directed by Maister, the International Theatre Program's artistic director since 2002. Maister is responsible for numerous creative, cutting-edge productions and has acted in Europe, South Africa, and the United States. He is the recipient of a Drama League Directing Fellowship, the "Fleur du Cap" Theatre Award, the Steven Bochco Award, and the Van Staveren and WQED-Buhl Foundation fellowships.

The work of Marsha Ginsberg, the production's set designer, has been seen in numerous prestigious venues including Juilliard, Glimmerglass Opera, and New York's Joseph Papp Public Theater. Her work will be included in the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum's Design Triennial this fall, an exhibit that showcases "experimental projects, emerging ideas, major buildings, new products and media that were at the center of contemporary culture from 2003 to 2006." Costume designer Jessica Gaffney has worked both on- and off-Broadway and also designs costumes and scenery for film. Lighting designer Thomas Dunn's work has been seen coast-to- coast, including at Dance Theater Workshop, the Whitney Biennial, Bard College, and at Yale. He also lit the International Theatre Program production of Killer Joe last season. The original score and sound design for The Lower Depths is by Rochester native Obadiah Eaves, whose work can be heard on Nickelodeon, HBO Family, Discovery, and The Learning Channel.

Tickets are $10 for the general public, $6 for University of Rochester students, and $8 for senior citizens and University of Rochester faculty, alumni, and staff. They can be reserved online at or by calling the box office at (585) 275-4088. Tickets can also be purchased at the door, one hour before the performance. Todd Theatre is located in Todd Union on the UR's River Campus.