ONCE ON THIS ISLAND by the Young People’s Theatre Workshop blew me away. The set really made the story come to life, bringing beauty and color to the show and adding levels and space to the relatively small stage at the Swarthmore Players Club. The cast included a range of children from elementary schoolers to high school seniors. They worked as a unit and executed every move together. From the very beginning, the show impressed me. The minimal scenery provided ample opportunities for the rather large cast to be seen. They were used as background and occasionally as set pieces, making the atmosphere very light and fun. The entire show was paced beautifully; I don’t think there was a second of down time for any of the cast! The storytellers kept the show moving and were always enthusiastic about what they were saying, making the whole show fun.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is based on the story My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, and is set on a small island in the French Antilles in the Caribbean. This island is separated between the dark-skinned peasants and the lighter-skinned grand hommes, who are descended from the French. The action of the play follows the story of Ti Moune, a young girl once orphaned in a storm and saved by the Gods. Ti Moune falls in love with Daniel Beauxhomme, a grand homme, and the Gods bring them together by crashing Daniel’s car and putting him in the care of Ti Moune. The Gods intend to settle a dispute between Erzulie, Goddess of love, and Papa Ge, demon of death, over who is stronger. Ti Moune offers her life in place of Daniel’s, and Papa Ge hints that he may take her offer later. Ti Moune follows Daniel as his family takes him back to the city of the grand hommes, and they fall in love. However, Ti Moune discover that Daniel is already engaged to Andrea Deveraux. Papa Ge tempts Ti Moune with a knife, and she almost accepts his offer of killing Daniel. When Ti Moune is discovered with the dagger she is thrown from the Hotel Beauxhomme, but she stays by the gates for weeks, waiting for Daniel. He and Andrea come to the gates after their wedding to throw coins to the peasants, and, after receiving a coin from Daniel, Ti Moune dies. The Gods transform her into a beautiful tree, which cracks open the gates of the hotel and brings unity to the island. Her branches shelter Daniel’s small son as he falls in love with a peasant girl, proving that love truly is stronger than death.
Although the story of Ti Moune ends there, the audience is invited to spread her story of grief, love, pain, and strength to others. The cast did such a good job with this show that I may even go back. The storytellers and chorus slipped seamlessly from the roles of joyous peasants into the parts of the snobbish grand hommes. The four Gods worked beautifully together, and really seemed to be like quarrelling siblings. The voices of the cast were flawless, highlighting such songs as “Waiting for Life”, “The Human Heart”, and “Mama Will Provide.” The dancing in this show was beautiful and full of life, including the whole cast in upbeat dance numbers. “The Human Heart” was enhanced by beautiful lyrical dancing. Overall, I would say that this was one of the best shows by children I have seen in a long time. I hope that you have a chance to see it, and spread the story of Ti Moune.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
Book and Lyrics byLynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Paul Kerrigan, Bob Moore, and Christopher Serpentine
May 27 – June 5, 2011
Young People’s Theatre Workshop
at Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Road