For The Madera Tribune
Members of the Madera County Arts Council gathered at Circle Gallery for a reception Friday afternoon and drank a toast, prior to attending a performance of “Once on This Island,” a musical presented by Madera South Theatre Company, directed by Ginger Latimer.
‘Once on this Island’ tells story of class conflict
It was a stormy night on the stage at Madera South High School. Thunder boomed, and a group of storytellers gathered around a little peasant girl (Tanzy Ivory) telling her the story of Little TiMoune (Tatiana De La Garza) and grown-up TiMoune (Rachel Diaz), a peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel Beauxhomme (Thorn Castellon), a rich grand homme who lived on the socially affluent side of their island,
Thus the cast from the Madera South Theatre Company launched its performance Thursday of the Broadway production, “Once on this Island.”
The setting of the musical was a fishing village in Haiti, the “Jewel of the Antilles.” The plot centers around TiMoune and Daniel and their story of life, pain, love, grief, faith, and hope.
Four gods rule the island, and the poor peasants who live there worship them. They are Asaka — Goddess of Earth (Jenna Valencia), Agwe — God of Water (Diego Barba), Erzulie — Goddess of Love (Olivia Leach), and Papa Ge — God of Death (Aunika Ball).
One day Agwe unleashes a storm on the island, causing a terrible flood and placing little TiMoune in danger. The gods, however, step in and save her by placing her in a tree. She is rescued by the peasants Mama Euralie (Janae Herrera) and Tonton Julian (Jorge Romero) who adopt her.
Years later, a grown-up TiMoune prays to the gods to let her be like the high class grands hommes. Although they laugh at her request, Erzulie proposes that she be given love because it is stronger than anything else.
This offends Papa Ge who proposes a bet to determine which is stronger, love or death. Agwe arranges for Daniel to be injured in a storm so that TiMoune can meet him and restore him to health.
Although the other peasants, including her parents, object, TiMoune helps Daniel recover just as Papa Ge comes to take his life. TiMoune offers to exchange her life for Daniel’s. This angers Papa Ge, but he leaves, hinting that he will be back since TiMoune’s life now belongs to him.
Tonton then travels to the affluent side of the island to find Daniel’s parents. When he returns to the peasants’ side, he brings back the history of Daniel’s people. It is a tale of intrigue, affairs, war, and a curse placed on Daniel’s people by Armand (Alexis Santiago) which causes them to be alienated from the peasants.
TiMoune is tearfully separated from Daniel and tells her parents that she is going to find him to marry him. When she finds him, Erzulie gives them the gift of love.
The townspeople begin to gossip about the pairing up of a peasant girl with a rich Beauxhomme. Daniel ignores the talk and takes pleasure in the contrast between TiMoune and the rich girls he has known.
At a ball held in the town’s hotel, Andrea Deveraux (Katelyn Nelson) a daughter of Daniel’s family friends, tricks TiMoune into dancing for them. She is a hit and wins the admiration of the rich society members.
Then TiMoune learns that Daniel is engaged to Andrea. Daniel decides to go through with the arranged marriage but insists he and TiMoune can be lovers. She is crushed.
At that point, Papa Ge reappears to remind TiMoune of her promise to exchange her life for Daniel’s. The poor peasant girl then claims she can revoke the bargain by killing him.
TiMoune enters Daniel’s room with a knife, but she can’t bring herself to use it. Daniel discovers TiMoune with the knife and is horrified. She is thrown off of the hotel premises.
TiMoune waits for days at the entrance to the hotel, which is guarded by the gatekeeper (Jose Figueroa). Meanwhile, Daniel and Andrea are married. Following an old tradition of throwing coins to the peasants outside the gates, Daniel spots TiMoune. He places a silver coin in her hand and then leaves.
The storytellers then enter and tell how Erzulie took TiMoune by the hand and led her to the ocean where Agwe allowed her to drown peacefully. Papa Ge brought her back to shore where Asaka transformed her into a tree.
The production concludes with a surprising finale, which tells what happens to the two classes of people on the island and how TiMoune’s legacy rests on the little girl who had been frightened by the storm in the beginning.
“Once on this Island” will continue its run this week with performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Madera South. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.