Theatricum Presents First-Ever Revival of HAITI

Theatricum Presents First-Ever Revival of HAITI

Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum presents the first-ever revival of a historical melodrama about the Haitian revolution that graced the stage at New York's Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in 1938 as part of the Federal Theatre Project. Haiti by William DuBois will join Theatricum's summer repertory season beginning July 28. Performances will continue at Theatricum's beautiful outdoor venue in Topanga through Sept. 29.

Haiti is a melodramatic recounting of the same 1802 uprising, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, that Orson Welles used as a basis for his now-famous Voodoo Macbeth - but Haiti depicts the actual events that transpired to give the Haitians back their country and rule. Striking a sharp chord that still resonates today, it explores the devastating legacy left by colonialism and slavery that was overcome by the strength, resilience and urgency of those brave enough to fight for freedom. Subtitled "A drama of the black Napoleon," Haiti was presented in 1938 by the Negro Theatre Unit of the FTP in a radical and controversial production that saw white and black actors performing together on stage.

"I came across the play in an old library," explains Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer, who directs. "It's one of the many plays Hallie Flannigan selected as part of the Federal Theatre Project to get people back to work. It's the only play I know of about the uprising that gave the Haitians back their country, and we think this will be the first time since then that it's performed."

As part of the production, the extensive Theatricum grounds will be used to create a "Haitian experience," featuring Haitian art, drumming, dance and food items.

The large ensemble cast features Altsea Baker, Louis Baker, Tavis L. Baker, Fabian Cook Jr., Tiffany Coty, Alexa Crismon, Kaila E. Drew, Steve Fisher,Holly Hawk, Rodrick Jean-Charles, Max Lawrence, Mark Lewis, Lea Madda, Dane Oliver, Sherrick O'Quinn, Earnestine Phillips, Clarence Powell,Cameron Rose, Aaron Vereen and Jeff Wiesen. The creative team includes fight choreographer Dane Oliver, dance choreographer Jessica Moneà Evans, costume designer Beth Eslick, set and props designer Ernest McDaniel, composer and sound designer Marshall McDaniel and lighting designer Zachary Moore. The production stage manager is Kim Cameron.

William DuBois was born in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1903. He graduated from Columbia University in 1925 with a degree in journalism and, in 1926, went to work at The New York Times. He went on to become an editor for The New York Times Book Review for which he also wrote reviews and articles, retiring in 1973. DuBois wrote a number of Broadway plays including Pagan Lady (1930) and I Loved You Wednesday (1932). DuBois wrote the play Haiti (1938) for the Federal Theatre Project. The play was produced by the Negro Theatre Unit and presented at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, also touring to Boston. The play's authorship has often been misattributed to the black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois because of the similarity of names. DuBois' novels include "The Island in the Square" (1947), set in New York City in the 1920s; "A Season to Beware" (1956), about the worlds of journalism and publishing, and "The Falcon's Shadow" (1958), about the travails of the theater. He also worked as a silent writer with Frank G. Slaughter on 27 of his historical novels.

At Theatricum, Haiti will run in repertory with productions of Coriolanus by William Shakespeare; Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream; The Crucibleby Arthur Miller; and The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold. All five mainstage productions will continue to play in repertory through Sept. 30.

Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum, using a company of actors, performs all of the plays in repertory, making it possible to see all five mainstage plays in a single summer weekend.

Theatricum Botanicum has been named "One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles" by Buzz magazine, "One of Southern California's most beguiling theater experiences" by Sunset magazine, and "Best Theater in the Woods" by the LA Weekly. "The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum's maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn't get any better than this," writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, "The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills." In 2017, Theatricum was named "one of the best outdoor theaters around the world" by the Daily Beast.

Theatricum's beginnings can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening's performance. Theatricum's main stage amphitheater sports a new and improved sun shade for increased audience comfort, installed with support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Ralph M. Parson's Foundation. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for "sustained excellence," which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's highest honor.

The outdoor amphitheater is terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.

Haiti opens on Saturday, July 28 at 8 p.m. and continues through Sept. 29. Tickets range from $10 - $38.50; children 4 and under are free. Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310-455-3723 or visit www.theatricum.com.

 

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