Book & Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Based on the novel by Rosa Guy's
Directed by Reggie Kelly
West Coast Black Theater Troupe
Historic Asolo Theater, Ringling Museum of Art
Sarasota, Through May 19, 2007

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

The gods of Love, Earth, Water, and Death are determined to show natives of a French Antilles Island who're their bosses. Death or Papa Gee (played by a frightening Keone Dent) wants to claim the life of "cream colored) aristocrat Daniel (handsome, dignified Porter Anderson III). Love or Erzulie (charming Jnana Wilson) prefers to dominate when beautiful dark peasant Ti Moune (Whitney Reshard, as limber as she is beautiful) saves Daniel's life. The lovers' tale is told by villagers to a youngster (Michelle Kinsey, who also appears confidently as the young Ti Moune) to quell her fright as they protect her during a terrible storm, supposedly sent by the gods. Song and dance carry, as in a folk opera, the story of the peasants in reality and fiction. It would be hard to find a better group to portray them than the exuberant West Coast Black Theater Troupe, who never let activity flag nor a song fail to soar.

As Ti Moune's adoptive parents, credible Kristen Wilson and Nate Jacobs do both soul searching and searching for her when she leaves their village to go to the other side of the island. Dean Wilson shines in several roles, most notably Armand, the fabled rich French colonist who begat Beauxhomme, Daniel's alter ego. Kenessa "Nisi" Weaver's Andrea/Madame Armand should be the girl one loves to hate, since she beats out Ti Moune to marry Daniel, but she ingratiates herself by seeming to obey her fate rather than welcoming it. Like an Earth Mother, Stacey Copeland plays Asaka/Earth as nurturing, a complement to Michael Kinsey-whenever he's not bringing a storm--- as a sympathetic Agwe/Water. Anneysia Bonner, Arnette German, and Robert Thomas play various Storytellers, Gossips, and just plain Villagers, enhancing group performance along with the many doublers in the leads. They're sprightly on the small stage, perhaps most fun when they portray trees, frogs, wild animals, and elements. Calypso rhythms seem to come natural to them. Dance, beautifully choreographed by Director Reggie Kelly, is the play's highlight. Unfortunately, sound problems sometimes make lyrics difficult to understand. Michael Sebastian's otherwise fine Musical Direction needs to adapt.

Lush tropical greenery abounds in Jeff Dillon's Scenic Design. It benefits greatly from varied Lighting by Michael Pasquini, especially helping to delineate the interior where Daniel lies near death. Candle-lit lamps are effective in a downstage ritual. Cassandra Mockosher provides colorful dress with Afro-Caribbean patterns as does Bill Fenner with special Costumes. Shane Steight had her able hands full as Technical Director, due to very short rehearsal using the Historic Asolo. Stage Manager is Anthony Lombard. This Nate Jacobs Production ends WBTT's fifth anniversary season and first in its present home.

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