Who doesn’t love a good story?
A woman’s desperate escape fomented by mysticism, a violent past, dark magic, a baby who doesn’t cry, an assemblage of outlandish, urban characters and dreams… vivid, terrifying, portentous, hopeful.
Just a taste of what’s in store at The Road Theatre’s February 2017 West Coast premiere of Little Children Dream of God, by playwright Jeff Augustin, about a Haitian immigrant trying to forge a new life in America on the rough streets of Miami.
Speaking late last year with Director Andre Barron about this production piqued my imagination and curiosity. The peculiar multispectrum of threads and mouthwatering elements begged for an introduction long before anyone walked into the theater. So I asked Andre if we could explore the play a bit.
This play has had a fast turn-around.
Fast and furious. But I’m excited. All the actors are incredibly talented and very unique. The play requires that. The characters and their universe are explicitly drawn and coded. They all live, stuck together in a run-down tenement that houses refugees and they become this colorful, fascinating, dysfunctional family yet also protect each other. You see a great, street-wise kind of love, how and what it takes to live within their own circumstances, their neighborhood and the building.
The more I look at the play, the more I see a definitive urban flavor to it. Every character is a classic art type and is set precisely for a reason. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz. There’s this mission, this idea that you’re going to try to get something or some place and you find out you had the power all along to have it, which is Sula’s journey. And people show up when you need them, even if you don’t always get exactly what you want.
Every character in the play is seizing the moment or making a decision, turning a corner, or faced with something that’s going to absolutely change their life forever.
Sula, the lead character in the play is a Haitian Mambo. She culturally comes from a long line of women who have this power that draws spirits and deities to them. Sometimes they’re manipulated either by their culture or their own families to use them for evil. They tend to be women who struggle with identity and purpose. Sula’s mother was among them. So Sula feels a responsibility to carry on this lineage. She’s following this kind of destructive path although doesn’t want to. But she doesn’t know how to escape.
Sula’s husband is in politics. A thug who manipulates her and uses her power to get what he wants and perpetuate corruption. One of the parallels in the play is that her husband is the same kind of man as her father. Dangerous and controlling. They both make her do terrible things. “I took it on, all of his anger and she says my mother died because of all that evil inside her, that anger inside her…” is an amazing monologue in the play.
But, someone who’s connected to that power also has the capacity for good. It’s just a matter of what you’re accessing. Part of Sula’s journey is to discover where her true power lies.
Is there comedy in the play?
There’s a lot of humor in the play. So many really funny things happen.
However, the throughline is that Sula’s running from her demons and her past, trying to get to another, better place. She believes that there’s a curse on her and on her child.
The opening scene is her floating on a tire across the ocean, eleven months pregnant. She has the address to an apartment building where she is told there is a man who houses refugees and indigents. She arrives with nothing – terrified, alone and ready to have her baby. She’s making an incredible leap. But she’s determined to have her baby in the U.S.
She meets Caroline, a nurse and a sort of caretakers of the building, who also claims that God is the father of her children. Caroline is constantly in conversation with God at all times no matter who’s in the room with her and she’s constantly trying to call him back – like a lover. All of the characters in the play are really little children of God and there is a God-theme throughout.
Is Sula the catalyst?
When Sula arrives everyone’s lives get turned upside down and they think she may have something to do with it. She begins to feel the impact she is having and is absolutely convinced that she is and that this curse has followed her.
Like Dorothy bringing the tornado to Oz…and everything changes?
Yeah. She’s seeking out this man she feels can change her life. He is the gate-keeper of all the insanity and all the characters that are in this building. Ultimately he’s quite taken by her. A beautiful dance ensues and a possibility for something to happen between them.
What’s most intriguing about the production?
We’re bringing some real voodoo and magic realism to North Hollywood, right on stage in a scary way. It’s very theatrical and we partly get to invent that with songs, casting spells, incantations and bringing that music in from Haiti… all real because it exists.
Is this play autobiographical?
The playwright, Jeff Augustin is Haitian-American. His mother was pregnant with him when she moved to the United States. I don’t know that that was her story necessarily. But it was the catalyst for him inventing this story.
What attracted you to this play?
I look for redemption and some sense of purposeful journey so that people can access the story in a way that makes them feel, makes them care about something or someone they didn’t know they’d care about necessarily.
This play is really a legacy play; the legacies we leave behind. It’s about family, parental lineage, where people come from, where they are going. It really asks the audience, because it asks the characters indirectly, how are you going to show up in the world? What are you going to pass down to others? It also points out that you don’t know what a savior you might be to a person right in front of you. It’s profound.
At the end, Sula inevitably has to confront her own fear and her own power. It’s actually a simple decision. But like all of us, she complicates it with doubts about self-worth and worthiness.
There is a bit of good vs evil, love vs fear that happens on stage. You see her do battle through voodoo ritual, dreams and surrealism, and magic which changes her during the course of it all. Ultimately she becomes empowered as a woman and chooses authenticity over everything else. She changes the legacy.
(All photos: Michele Young Photography)