REVIEW: Once Upon This Island

Once on This Island is the current offering at Center Stage. The island referred to in the title is the “Jewel of the Antilles,” now known as Haiti. References in the play to Napoleon Bonaparte place the setting sometime after an uprising of slaves in the early 19th century begun by Toussaint L’Ouverture and ended by Jean-Jacques Dessaline.

This is a story that rivals any ancient Greek tragedy with a Caribbean twist at the end. It tells of Ti Moune, an orphan rescued from a storm and adopted into a peasant family on the island, and Daniel, a pampered son of an aristocrat.

Papa Ge, the Sly Demon of Death, played by Alonzo Richmond with evil laugh and leer to match; Asaka, Mother of the Earth, played by Tymika Prince; Agwe, God of Water, played by Aundrey Ligon, Jr.; and Erzulie, Goddess of Love, played by Tamika McDonald play four gods to Ti Moune’s Job and bring together Ti Moune and Daniel via a car wreck where Daniel is doomed to die until Ti Moune trades her life to Papa Ge for Daniel’s. The bargain is struck and the play winds to its inevitable conclusion.

In the end, Ti Moune, played dynamically by Cierra Richmond, is the heart and soul of this tale and shines brighter than the talented Alfred Jones Jr., who plays Daniel. Daniel comes off as a spoiled brat who toys with Ti Moune as he might with any bright bauble before he marries Andrea, played by Frances Lewis.

Ti Moune is the one with the powerful voice and the love and devotion that lasts longer than life itself. In the end, Daniel is a fading footnote in the island’s history while Ti Moune follows the mythological footsteps of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessaline. Daniel fades from view while Ti Moune’s tale is told over and over always beginning with “Once on this island… .”

This fine play ends on Sunday, February 22, so rush to get tickets if you done so haven’t already.

Fiddler on the Roof ends the season March 12-29. The Who’s Tommy opens the 1915-16 season on July 9 so gets your season tickets now. See story, CenterPiece, page 1, for the full list of next season’s offerings.

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