A star of The Wire and Treme debuts with the twin stories of his rising career and the slow return of his native New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Pierce begins with a 2007 New Orleans street production of Waiting for Godot (he played Vladimir), a play, he argues, with profound relevance for the struggling city. From this play—more than 300 pages later he tells us more—the author returns to his slave ancestors and gradually brings us the stories of his father and mother, who are the real heroes here. His father worked two jobs to keep them in their neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park (later destroyed by the hurricane), and his mother, Tee, emerges as a towering character. The author comments continually about the importance of family, community support, and high expectations; he believes these were the principal factors in his early life, factors that helped him win a slot at Juilliard and a successful acting career. But we also see Pierce animated by Katrina’s devastations. He has become deeply involved in community restoration—he was able to get his parents back in their storm-ravaged home—and has some sharp words for the politicians and their cronies, many of whom complicate things. It’s appropriate that Pierce’s work is something of a gumbo—a mix of memoir, social psychology, literary analysis, and political and religious philosophy. Oddly missing is even the faintest whiff of anything about his personal life. Yes, we know about his roles, his intellectual and literary passions (the works of August Wilson among them), his friendships (Wynton Marsalis’ tribute to Pierce’s mother is an extraordinarily moving segment of the text), and his family history, but we learn nothing about any of his relationships—lovers? spouse? children?
An affecting account of a driven man, a sturdy family, and a resilient community.