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 (FTP).
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.
Haiti by William DuBois completes Theatricum’s summer repertory season beginning July 28 and continue through Sept. 29.
“I came across the play in an old library,” explains 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 been 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).
Haiti also toured to Boston.
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 play’s authorship has often been misattributed to the black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois because of the similarity of names.
Haiti will run in repertory with productions of Coriolanus by William Shakespeare; Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Crucible by 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.
Tickets range from $10–$38.50; children 4 and under are free. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets: (310) 455-3723; or www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum; Follow on twitter: @theatricum; and instagram: @theatricum_botanicum.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga (midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley).