Haiti — A revival of William DuBois’ historical melodrama about the 1802 overthrow of the colonial Haitian government by Toussaint L’Ouverture. Subtitled “A drama of the black Napoleon,” Haiti was presented in 1938 by the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project in a radical and controversial production that saw white and black actors performing onstage together at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem.
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.
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. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum and instagram: @theatricum_botanicum.