'Ti-Jean' brings the Caribbean to USF

On October 29, 2013

 

In less than five weeks, visiting director Henry Muttoo and students from the School of Theater and Dance took a simple island folk tale and turned it into a colorful, vibrant story.

In the tale of the devil and three brothers that has expanded generations and cultures, “Ti-Jean and His Brothers” is a play written by Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, that uses rich imagery and themes involving heaven, hell and a search for independence.

The audience is transported instantly to the Caribbean, due to the elaborate hut-like stage, island music performed by a live band and the intense visuals of the extravagant costumes designed by new faculty member Yao Chen, that allow actors dressed as goats, birds, bugs, frogs and demonic creatures to leap across the stage in equally ornate costuming.

From the West Indies, Muttoo said he is impressed with how the actors have taken this story from a different culture and brought it to life.

Though he said he had a vision of the play, he took a hands-off approach to directing, as he said he feels that a director shouldn’t impose all of his or her will onto any play.

“It makes no sense for a student to train for three years in theater and learn what to do, just to have a director come and tell you what to do,” Muttoo said. “I gave them a lot of room to work with their character and gave them a lot of basics I think they needed to know about the play, and let them work around that, and I think they’ve done an excellent job.”

While some actors, even in their vividly colored costumes, tend to give less-than-stellar performances, and though all of the actors’ attempts at a Creole accent took some getting used to, there are a handful of performances that draw attention away from the costumes and the accents and back to the story.

Diego Hernandez-Calabria, a senior majoring in theatre performance, although he is mostly disguised by masks, outshines, as he plays the Devil/Papa Bois/Planter.

From scene-to-scene, Hernandez-Calabria offers glimpses of a twisted, devious wickedness as he transforms with ease and precision to each form of the devil.

Though the three brothers are well cast, Kaena Hood, a senior majoring in theatre performance, takes on a male role and gives an outstanding performance of the youngest, humble and subtlest of the three.

Adam Seacord, a sophomore majoring in theater and creative writing, shows great improvement and theatrical growth in dual roles as the oldest brother, Gros Jean, and the goat, from his role in this summer’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.”

Seacord said that the biggest challenge he faced during his performance was he had to bring himself emotionally into the play, while still honoring the folk tale.

“It was different from a realistic play,” Seacord said. “In this, I’m just a character. That’s who I am. I had to be the character and present the character at the same time.”

The chorus of woodland creatures, frog, cricket, bird and firefly, served as the narrators, but unfortunately, their stunning costumes distracted from their performances.

Though the speaking voice of a creepily adorned “child of the devil,” played by Angel Guppy, came across a little more overbearingly shrieky than needed, her singing voice was angelic.

Though the accents were a bit daunting, the fact that the cast learned a song in another language in only two weeks leaves much to be admired. First time USF performer, Chelsea Durrant, a sophomore majoring in business, who plays La Diablesse, said learning the song was the biggest challenge for her and most of the cast.

“Sometimes not knowing what the words meant or how to pronounce them was the biggest difficulty,” Durrant said. “We learned it in like two weeks. So that was a big feat. We’re all actually proud we got it out. Everything else went pretty smoothly during the show, it was a good process.”

Though not technically a musical, the play offered a Caribbean-inflected percussion that even Durrant found hard to resist dancing to.

“The music is wonderful,” Durrant said. “It is hard not to dance when I hear the music backstage. It is hard not to dance when I am onstage. I have to remember I am in character. I cannot smile or dance along even though I really want to.”

With all of the vibrant colors and sounds, Muttoo said he hopes the audience takes the theme with them that evil surrounds us.

“We are in a constant battle in order to balance ourselves from evil to good. In order to do good, you have to do evil to do good and keep evil in its place,” Muttoo said “You can’t defeat evil with brute force and strength or book knowledge, the way to beat evil is through common sense and balance — by defying evil not cooperating with it.”

The play opened Thursday and performances will be held Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. in Theatre II. Student ticket purchases are $8 in advance and $10 on the day of the performance. For box office hours, location and other ticketing information visit
boxoffice.arts.usf.edu.

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