- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - For New Orleans native and actor Wendell Pierce, the approaching 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation marked an excellent time to show “Brothers from the Bottom,” a play about a neighborhood and family dealing with gentrification and development after the storm.

“It’s a perfect time to reflect on what happened,” said Pierce. The actor, who starred in the HBO series “The Wire” and “Treme” - also about life in post-Katrina New Orleans - stars in and helped produce the play.

Playwright Jackie Alexander, who has longtime roots in the city, wrote “Brothers from the Bottom” in 2009 and it has been shown in New York. But this will be the first time audiences can see it in New Orleans.

Commemorating the hurricane’s anniversary, it will run June 5-28 at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts - the city’s premier cultural high school, where Pierce studied.

“Brothers from the Bottom” details the tensions between two brothers in a New Orleans neighborhood over the merits of a development project being promoted by James, a former resident of the neighborhood, in the years following Hurricane Katrina.

Chris, played by Pierce, worries the project will push out longtime residents who can no longer afford to live there while his brother Trey argues the neighborhood will benefit from investment. One calls it gentrification; the other calls it revitalization.

It’s a topic New Orleans has been wrestling with in the years after Katrina devastated this city in one of the worst disasters the country has ever seen.

In many ways the city has made a phenomenal rebound, enticing new businesses and residents, carrying out wide-scale reforms, and rebuilding historic neighborhoods.

But rents and property values have skyrocketed. Many residents feel pushed out of longtime neighborhoods. The city still struggles with deep, entrenched issues of poverty and crime.

“The city is too Balkanized right now,” said Pierce. “We can’t look at the rejuvenation as a success until we know that everyone is made whole.”

Alexander, who was born in New Orleans and grew up in nearby Gonzales, said the play’s genesis came from listening to the sometimes heated discussions his family members had about changes going on the city.

“Everybody thought their side was right. This family gathering became a really heated debate where everybody was really starting to get angry with what their cousin was saying,” he said. “Really, one of the goals of the play was to make people listen.”

Alexander said the play was not designed for the developer to be the bad guy and Pierce’s character, who’s fighting to save his neighborhood, be the hero. Instead he wanted to show all the points of view because everyone thinks they’re doing something good for the neighborhood.

It’s also about self-acceptance, Alexander said. Trey, for example, is a lawyer who left the city for New York. He struggles with returning to a neighborhood he long shunned.

Both Pierce and Alexander point out that it is a play firmly rooted in the New Orleans experience. Almost the entire action takes place on the front porches of the side-by-side houses where Chris and Trey live with their wives - so-called “shotgun houses” because you can stand at the door and fire a shotgun the entire length of the house and out the backdoor.

Alexander said he’s often been frustrated by pop culture portrayals of New Orleans in movies or television, because most producers just don’t get the city’s people and culture. “Brothers from the Bottom,” he hopes, does that.

“I hope I captured the feel of what I grew up with because that is what I wanted to put on. I wanted to put up the people who entertained me greatly growing up. I had a lot of fun watching them. And I think people from New Orleans will recognize them also and get a kick out of seeing them on stage,” he said.

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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