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Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Last Tiger in Haiti
La Jolla Playhouse
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule


The Cast
Photo by Jim Carmody
I love Joan Didion's aphorism, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." But, Jeff Augustin, author of The Last Tiger in Haiti, currently in its world premiere production at La Jolla Playhouse, has a corollary: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live sane."

Mr. Augustin's play portrays a group of Haitian restaveks, children whose (usually rural) parents give (or, perhaps, sell) them to others, often relatives, as servants. The parents are unable to care for their children, and their hope often is that those who accept them will provide a better life, including an education, in exchange for domestic chores. The reality, according to an educational organization called Restavek Freedom, is that the children often become slaves, uncared for, not educated, and many times abused, physically and sexually.

In act one, the children are gathered in their sleeping area, a make-shift tent where they sleep on the ground. Their common form of entertainment is storytelling. Someone who wishes to tell a story will say "Krik," and the others will respond "Krak," indicating that they are ready to listen.

The stories sometimes imagine a world that is different from the one in which they currently live and sometimes fantastically portray their fears and anxieties (the play's title provides this sort of reference). They are a way of decompressing from a difficult day before getting the sleep needed for the labor of the next one. In short, storytelling is keeping them alive in an untenable situation.

Act two is set years later in Miami. Two of the restaveks have immigrated there, and one has written and published a memoir. Yet, the "Krik/Krak" stories of the restavek life still resonate—and, perhaps, even shape experience in a very different culture.

La Jolla Playhouse honors its partnership with the University of California, San Diego, Master of Fine Arts in Theatre program by producing this play. Mr. Augustin and his director, Joshua Kahan Brody, are graduates of the program, as is Jasmine St. Clair, one of the performers (the others are Brittany Bellizeare, Andy Lucien, Clinton Roane, and Reggie D. White). The Last Tiger in Haiti received a reading in the Playhouse's new works series, and is now getting a full production as its world premiere. A second production will be seen at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the co-producer.

It's an admirable production, with entirely different first and second act sets by Takeshi Kata, costumes by Dede Ayite, and hair and wigs by Cookie Jordan (in addition, the fine lighting and sound designs are by Alexander Nichols and Nicholas Drashner, respectively).

The play is a brave work but difficult to witness in a couple of ways. First, the culture is so different, and even if one knows about restaveks before viewing the play, the life depicted doesn't completely conform to the stereotypical story. Second, the Haitian patois (coached by Chantal Jean-Pierre) can be difficult to follow for American ears (in act two, the accents are tempered by U.S. influences on them, an interesting touch).

Still, the casting and direction are strong, and the production makes a credible case for the play.

The Last Tiger in Haiti was developed with support from The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, CA, The 2050 Fellowship Program at New York Theatre Workshop, and La Jolla Playhouse's DNG New Works Series. Performs through July 24, 2016, Tuesdays through Sundays at the Mandell Weiss Forum, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037. Tickets are available by calling (858) 550-1010 or visiting www.lajollaplayhouse.org.


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