The venerable La Jolla Playhouse continues its tradition of exploring new voices. With the world premiere of The Last Tiger in Haiti, the audience is thrust into pre-earthquake Haiti to discover the power of storytelling by a group of restaveks (child slaves).
The play weaves in and out of reality and fantasy, and although the dialogue is nearly always compelling, the high wire balance is only slightly shaky midway through the first act.
The University of California at San Diego is well-represented in the production; playwright Jeff Augustin is a UCSD M.F.A alumnus (2014), as is director Joshua Kahan Brody (2013). The pair has assembled a strong five person cast: Brittany Bellizeare, Clinton Roane, Andy Lucien, Reggie D. White and Jasmine St. Clair.
The story opens late in the evening in a shanty town tent, with the distant musical sounds of karnaval providing a counterpoint to the squalor of the child slaves. Each of the children returns to the tent, reflecting on the burdens of the day. As a form of escape and tradition, they trade stories. As both competition and camaraderie, the stories provide them a sense of familial solidarity. But soon the harmony is broken as one child determines he might try to escape the grip of their master. His story evolves into the title of the play, or does it?
Joseph is ably played by Reggie D. White with energy, his magnetism is evident. Andy Lucien is the eldest, as Max he provides the most guidance for the quintet.
The second half opens in a diametrically opposed setting, several indeterminate years later. The meekest character Rose (Brittany Bellizeare) has taken her story and published a memoir. When challenged by Max about the veracity of her book, we are shown that Rashomon-like, perspectives can shift reality.
The scenic design and lighting design (by Takeshi Kata and Alexander Nichols, respectively) are noteworthy, and are an integral aspect of the production.
Director Brody (recent winner of the prestigious Princess Grace Award) maintains a steady hand on the complex staging. Augustin’s script is very tight; the ebb and flow of the magic realism in the story is compelling It is the first time a graduate of the MFA has seen a script produced in the Playhouse’s subscription-season lineup, and it bodes well for all involved.