The power of true love was demonstrated on the stage during Woodland’s most recent theater production, Once on this Island, a Broadway production based off the novel My Love, My Love, by Rosa Guy.
From the exotic costumes, set, and accents to the energy and presence of the actors, this show definitely went off without a hitch. The live pit orchestra provided dramatic music that added to the effect of being transported to another time and place.
The place was the “Jewel of the Antilles”, otherwise known as Haiti. In this story, the Island is divided by those rich descendents of the French left from Napoleon’s time, the Grand Hommes, and the native peasants.
The story begins with the four gods watching over a small orphan girl, Ti Moune, as she is taken in by a good peasant couple. Actress Becca Grabowski, playing the part of the peasant Mama Euralie, watches over Ti Moune as she grows and loves her.
Years pass, and Ti Moune is now a young woman, played by freshman Kathryn Steinbacher. She witnesses a car accident and attempts to save the life of the young man inside, one of the Grand Hommes, Daniel.. Her peasant father, Ton Ton Julien, played by senior Zachary Belenchia, advises Ti Moune to let Daniel be, and she is warned that the gods will be angry if he lives because of her. However, Ti Moune is determined and will not give up her quest to save the young man, whom she is already falling in love with.
So, Ton Ton Julien goes to find the Grand Hommes, to tell them that he has found the young man. When he makes his way to the great city, the gate is blocked, and he is told to get out, being the peasant that he was. However, once they hear that he has found Daniel, he is allowed in.
While Ton Ton Julien is away, a great storm occurs and Ti Moune is afraid Daniel will die. She pleads with the gods to save him, and the four gods hear her prayers and laugh. They sing and dance around her as she watches over Daniel, unaware.
Erzulie, goddess of love, played by junior Kasey Smith, wants to help her and Daniel to be together, but Papa Ge, the demon of death, played by freshman Robert Wiener, is not willing to let Daniel live.
Suddenly, Ti Moune is made aware of the gods’ presence, and has to fight Papa Ge for the life of Daniel. She remembers that the gods had saved her life, leading her to her adoptive peasant parents after she was orphaned. She promises Papa Ge her life for Daniel’s, “My soul for his!” as she sang dramatically.
When Daniel is back with his people in the city, Ti Moune is heartbroken. She is convinced that the gods meant for them to meet just so she could save him, and she is determined to get to the city to see him again. Her adoptive parents are wary of letting her go, Ton Ton Julien warning her that the city is miles away, and that she is just a child. “I’m a child no longer!” Ti Moune declares, and she declares her love for the Grand Homme boy, Daniel, and swears that they will get married. “He will not marry you!” was Mama Euralie’s heartfelt warning, but in the end, Ti Moune goes to find her love.
The ensemble sings “Some say,” about how Ti Moune made it past the gates and guards and into the city, but Ti Moune manages to find Daniel, and it is speculated that the gods led her to him.
At first, Daniel, played by senior Dan Lyons, is not very receptive to Ti Moune, not recognizing her as the girl who saved her life. However, Ti Moune is persistent and declares that the gods meant for her to heal him, and she does.
Ti Moune expects that she will live happily ever after with Daniel, but then a Grand Homme girl comes into the picture, being pleasant to Ti Moune and asking her to dance for the Grand Hommes. Ti Moune is talented and they Grand Hommes applaud, but then the mysterious girl sings that she must tell Ti Moune something that she feels has been left unsaid: that she and Daniel are pledged to be wed.
Heartbroken, Ti Moune pleads with the gods to help her get Daniel back. But, Death reminds of her unfulfilled promise. “But why should you die for him, when he has betrayed you?” Death asks her. He then tempts her to kill Daniel, so that she might live, and Ti Moune sneaks up behind Daniel with a knife, but her love proves stronger than Death, and she throws the knife down, unable to harm Daniel.
But, the Grand Hommes know that Ti Moune was planning to murder Daniel, and she is thrown from the city, and the gates are barred.
The Grand Hommes block her way with their arms crossed all along the stage, and as she pleads with them to let her in to see Daniel, they turn their backs.
The storytellers that have been narrating throughout the play tell how Ti Moune waited outside the gates, heartbroken, not eating or sleeping, for two weeks, until she saw Daniel.
Daniel and his fiancée were throwing coins to the peasants when they caught sight of Ti Moune, lying by the gate. Daniel took her by the hand, but his fiancée came and he left with her while Ti Moune shook her head with grief and pleaded with him to come back.
The entire cast sings and little Ti Moune returns to be united with Ti Moune’s parents, as they stand over her body in grief. The cast sings in a haunting, beautiful tune how Ti Moune died:
“Erzulie took her by the hand and led her to the sea,
Where Agwe wrapped her in a wave and laid her to her rest,
And Papa Ge was gentle, as he carried her to shore,
Where Asoka accepted her, and held her to her breast.”
This path is illustrated as the limp Ti Moune is wrapped in the arms first Erzulie, goddess of love, then Agwe, god of water, next Asoka mother of the Earth, and finally she is embraced by Papa Ge, the demon of Death.
At this point, tears were in the eyes of some of the audience, and the mood was so serious and heavy. Everyone felt for Ti Moune. “And then,” a storyteller proclaimed, cheerfully, “The gods blessed her!”
The gods turned the spirit of Ti Moune into a tree, whose branches cracked the walls that kept her from Daniel and reminded everyone of the power of love forevermore.
This beautiful story was told incredibly well by the small cast and crew of Woodland Theater. The heartfelt performances of Steinbacher as Ti Moune, and Grabowski as her mother especially moved the audience.
The choreography, by choreographer Jen Mazzeo, highlighted the story and was executed very well by the cast. Wiener’s dramatic performance as Papa Ge, the demon of death, was riveting.
The artful and dramatic lighting, sound, and costumes complete with makeup created another world, on the “Jewel of the Antilles”.
Director Sean Lewis has much to be proud of with this cast and crew, and also the pit orchestra, which he directed throughout the show’s three performances.
As of Wednesday, May 30th, the cast and crew had even more to be proud of at the annual Halo Awards, which is run by the Seven Angels Theater to recognize exceptional performances by high schools throughout Connecticut.
Once on this Island received nine Halo nominations, more than any single show at Woodland has yet. The drama directed by Susan Cinoman, theater teacher at Woodland, Stage Door, also got one nomination. The cast were jubilant when their name was called and they won the Halo for “specialty ensemble”, which the four gods were nominated for. Kasey Smith, Eric Gomez, Robert Weiner and Catherine Pelky have much to be proud of.