July 12 2016 05:03 PM

Play tells potent tale of child slaves in Haiti

    Andy Lucien and Brittany Bellizeare in The Last Tiger in Haiti
    Photo by Jim Carmody

    Chances are, The Last Tiger in Haiti will be your first exposure to the heartbreaking plight of the restaveks, child slaves in Haiti whose freedom and much, much more is robbed of them until they reach the age of 18. This is not an extinct, sorrowful chapter in the island nation's past, either. As many as 300,000 restaveks are believed still living in Haiti, where child slavery is frowned upon but not banned. The world-premiere play The Last Tiger in Haiti at La Jolla Playhouse is harrowing, but in the darkness flickers the light of these young peopleís survival—Haiti's traditional art of storytelling.

    In the play written by UC San Diego MFA graduate Jeff Augustin and directed by fellow grad Joshua Kahan Brody, five young ones address their fears, keep their hopes alive and bond in as close to a loving family as they can get, by telling folk stories. The tales are riveting and animated, making the first act of The Last Tiger in Haiti, a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, magnetic drama. Each of the restaveksMax (Andy Lucien), Laurie (Jasmine St. Clair), Joseph (Reggie D. White), Emmanuel (Clinton Roane) and the younger Rose (Brittany Bellizeare)ófully inhabits his or her story, giving the narratives immediacy and theatricality.

    The arrival of Act 2, a fast forward into the future, finds Rose grown and the published author of a book about her child-slave life. But Max, who's visiting her at Rose's swanky Miami home, begins a confrontational dialogue that upends to some extent everything we learned in Act 1. Integral as this development may be to Augstin's story, it gives the play a disjointedness if not wholly diminishing the poignancy of the first-act folk tales.

    Max is arguably the play's central character, and Lucien's intense portrayal is the vessel that contains all of The Last Tiger in Haiti's anger and hurt. Bellizeare's Rose is more credible in the first half of the production when she taps into the insecurities of childhood. St. Clair, for her part, is magical when she tells and sings the story of "The Orange Tree" in Act 1, a lyrical sequence that momentarily, but only momentarily, distracts you from The Last Tiger in Haiti's grim reality.

    The Last Tiger in Haiti runs through July 24 at La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD campus. $20-$59; lajollaplayhouse.org


    Opening:

    Ain’t Misbehavin’: A musical revue of the black music of the ‘20s and ’30s, as well as the Harlem Renaissance movement. Written and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., it opens July 13 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org

    Gypsy: Stephen Sondheim’s lavish musical about an overbearing stage mother’s attempts to make her daughters into stars of the stage. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens July 14 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com

    Funny Business: The So-Cal premiere of this British farce about a seedy hotel whose guests and staff are thrown into upheaval after the arrival of a notorious journalist. Presented by PowPAC, it opens July 15 at the Poway Community Theatre. powpac.org

    Hamlet: When the prince of Denmark’s father mysteriously dies, he sets out to find the truth and get revenge in Shakespeare’s classic play. Directed by Tom Haine, it opens July 15 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com

    Hamlet: Yes, another Hamlet. This one is a “deconstructed, reimagined and reconstructed” take on Shakespeare’s classic revenge tale. Presented by the Shakespeare Ensemble Company, it opens July 15 at the Project Space @ Horton Plaza. shakespearecompany.wix.com/shakespeare

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