Carol Zehosky, left, an adult continuing education student at Wilson, Myah Quirin, a Wilson College freshman and recent Shippensburg University graduate
Carol Zehosky, left, an adult continuing education student at Wilson, Myah Quirin, a Wilson College freshman and recent Shippensburg University graduate Gabriel Magloire rehearse a scene of animal rescue following Hurricane Katrina in the play "Because They Have No Words," April 25 at Wilson College. (Photo courtesy of Richard Shoap)

CHAMBERSBURG >> Hurricane Katrina was a horrific storm that hit New Orleans, causing loss of life, enormous damage to homes and, in the rush to save people, leaving many animals untended, unfed and alone. As people fled the rising waters or were rescued by boat, they were unable to take their pets with them, adding to their grief and sense of loss.

A new play being performed April 25 and 26 by the Wilson College drama club, Kittochtinny Players, looks at how animals were treated during this tragedy. Both shows at 7:30 p.m. are free, and take place in Laird Hall.

"Because They Have No Words" is an autobiographical play about a young man, Tim, who heads to New Orleans soon after the disaster and volunteers to help rescue dogs, cats, and other domestic animals lost to their families during the storm. Pet owners were not allowed to take their animals to the shelters with them.

Tim Maddock, who eventually wrote a play based on his personal experiences, decided to go to New Orleans. The situation coincided with the first anniversary of the death of his mother, Mary Maddock. "She was a giving, loving individual and all the ideas I came up with to honor her seemed insufficient," he explained. "I was watching the news on TV one night and heard that volunteers were needed to help people. I called the Red Cross, but they were mainly looking for medical personnel and they referred me to the Humane Society. Some 36 hours after I got in touch with them, I received a voice mail telling me what to bring."

He was so "shell-shocked" by what he saw that it was difficult to return to normal life. Struck by the abandonment of so many animals, he set himself on the road to reunite them with their owners. But in his desire to be helpful, he also came face-to-face with the negative aspects of human nature that can be displayed during a tragedy — from racism to bureaucratic ineptitude to theft of some animals by the volunteers who were there to help.

"My co-writer, Lotti Louise Pharris, was the one who suggested that I turn this into a play. We were students at Northwestern University together and I was a theater major. But I had never written a thing in my life."

The play has been performed in Los Angeles and Chicago. Its first east coast performance will be at Wilson College.

It is a small cast of six — with Patrick Fox, a Wilson sophomore, in the title role of Tim — playing more than 70 characters, the actors even in the roles of animals.

"Each year I look for a play that gives me flexible casting options," said director Richard Shoap, "and traditionally, I have tried to cast anyone who auditions. This show fit that criteria."

It was also significant that a male lead was needed; Wilson now being a co-ed college also filled that bill.

Because of the informality of the setting, the players are dressed casually in T-shirts and jeans, and some actors, cast as animals, are outfitted accordingly.

"In the context of the show, it makes sense to have them come as animals," said Shoap.

The play is also unique as it was first taught in an English class by Wilson Professor Lisa Wooley, who used it as the basis for class discussion in her "Writing About Literature and Environment" class.

Maddock performed in one of the productions of his play, but he is coming to Wilson where, for the first time, he will see the staging of what he wrote.

Friday visit

Maddock, a Los Angeles writer and actor who has appeared in several productions of his play, will visit Wilson and attend the April 25 performance. He is scheduled to participate in a question-and-answer session with the audience and will attend classes and meetings with Wilson students and faculty.

When you go

"Because They Have No Words"

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 25 and 26

WHERE: Laird Hall, Wilson College, 1015 Philadelphia Ave., Chambersburg

COST: Free

DETAILS: 264-4141 or richard.shoap@wilson.edu