There are only four dates left to catch William DuBois’ HAITI at Theatricum Botanicum. If you’re wondering whether you’ve already seen it, let me help you: No, you haven’t, because this is the first time that HAITI has been presented since its original production back in 1938.
HAITI was written under the Federal Theatre Project, a New Deal program meant to fund theater and other types of performance art during the Great Depression. The Project was meant to bring employment to artists, writers, directors, and other theater workers. DuBois wrote the play as part of this Project, and it was produced by the Negro Theatre Unit and presented at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. Ellen Geer, the director of the play at Theatricum, “came across the play in an old library,” and she’s is fairly sure that this is the “first time since then that it’s performed.”
HAITI recounts events that happened in 1802. Although France had (supposedly) already given the island its independence years before, Napoleon kept on sending troops to it, intending to keep it as a strategic location for France. Haitians,however, had no desire to belong to anyone anymore. Instead, they were willing to fight for the right to rule their own country.
In 1938, HAITI was a daring play. Not only was it performed by white and black actors on one same stage, but it included a character of mixed race, and a love connection between her and a French army officer. Thankfully, our society has made enough progress so that the above has no shocking value anymore, but seeing HAITI allows us to appreciate the power of the pen and the influence that art has had over the decades in shaping public opinion.
HAITI is both interesting and entertaining. It has a large cast of excellent actors, a couple of great sword fights, and some sweet emotional moments. The beautiful hillside theater is a perfect backdrop for the play.
Theatricum is creating a bit of a “Haitian experience” on each performance date by adding drumming, dance, food, and art representative of the island. Today and next week, for example, Gerald C. Rivers and the Peace Player Drummers will play one hour before the performance.
You can see HAITI (today) Sep. 8 at 8 pm; on Sunday Sep. 16 at 4 pm; and Saturdays Sep. 22 and 29 and 4 pm. Tickets start at $25 (children 5 to 15 years old $10), available at Theatricum.com or by calling (310) 455-3723.
The Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, in Topanga 90290.
If you go: you can take a picnic (wine allowed) to enjoy in the beautiful grounds before the play. Also take a sweater (it’s always chilly at night time), and a seat cushion. No fancy dress is needed.