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A Story with Deep Echoes- Once on This Island Premieres at the Levoy

by Lisa Palena


Based on the novel My Love, My Love, by Rosa Guy, Once on This Island is a fantastical tale alluding, in a time-honored tradition, to some pretty well-known storylines, namely The Little Mermaid and Romeo and Juliet. The story follows Ti Moune (Rayna Allen), a young girl who gets swept away during a storm to an island in the French Antilles where the peasants live on one side and the wealthy grand hommes (lighter skinned descendants of the original French planters and their slaves) live on the other. Ti Moune is adopted by a local peasant couple (Gabrielle Peal and Taye Hopkins) and raised by them. As a young adult, she yearns to learn her true purpose and prays to the gods- Erzulie (Carmen Delia Bryant), Papa Ge (Raven Stewart), Agwe (Jackson Brown), and Asaka (April Johnson)- for this answer. After much arguing, Papa Ge and Erzulie make a bet about which is stronger: love or death. The gods arrange for a car crash, in which grand homme Daniel Beauxhomme (Chris Crawford) is gravely injured. Ti Moune ignores the pleas of her parents and community to let him die and nurses him back to health. When Papa Ge comes to take Daniel’s life, Ti Moune offers hers instead, and in doing so, signs away her soul to the gods. After Daniel’s people arrive to take him home, Ti Moune follows him and they fall in love. Unfortunately, Daniel is engaged to Andrea (Brinah Iglesias), and he decides to follow through with his promise to marry her. Ti Moune is devastated and offers one final sacrifice of selflessness and love. So the gods turn Ti Moune into a tree that will break the wall that divides the societies and unite them as one.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the theater was the seating available onstage. While I sat in a traditional seat, there were 2 rows on each side of the stage facing the action. Aside from the seating, there was a very simple set- some netting to indicate an island, large walls with center doors that were used in conjunction with projections (in this case, a gray fence/wall), and three wooden boxes in the center. Calming tropical instrumental music was playing in the background while the audience chatted away. Before the show opened, there was a warning about strobe lighting and fog.

The cast entered from various sections of the theater, including the aisles. From the moment the ensemble stepped on to the stage, they were engaging and full of energy. The storytellers (Brinah Iglesias, Beaux Emerson, Alexandra Rowe, Brejai Grant, Alexander Brown, Khai Jones, Joshua Choc, Ben McKenzie, Syndee Gorham, and Ofelia Chavez Ramirez) did an incredible job of telling the tale and their background vocals resounded through the space in a way that made it appear there were 50 people in the cast as opposed to 19. The teamwork onstage was seamless and their movement added a whole new dimension to the story.

The gods had amazing chemistry and bounced off one another well. April Johnson, as the comedic Asaka, had excellent timing and earned laughs each time she appeared. Raven Stewart gave the devilish Papa Ge a deliciously villainous performance, and you could tell she enjoyed playing the dark side; she was a great counter to Carmen Delia Bryant, whose Erzulie was full of heart.

But the true standout of this performance was without a doubt Rayna Allen as Ti Moune. From her entrance she was captivating. Her “I Want” song (“Waiting for Life”) allowed us to fully understand her character as well as root for her success from that moment on. Her eyes gleamed and she moved with a freedom of spirit that allowed the audience to feel both her joy and her pain- this made her selfless sacrifice all the more poignant at the end.

Although the cast did a spectacular job bringing the show to life, they were assisted in various ways, and two of the strongest were in the costumes (by Nerys Muller) and lighting design (by Richie Rivera). The colors and styles of the costumes transported me to a Caribbean-style setting and allowed for free flowing movement from all characters- a necessity in a show that requires continuous choreography (impressively staged by Olivia Cruz). The lighting added to the beauty of the show- from spotlights to create shadows and silhouettes to the changing colors to represent shifting tones. Both elements brought new emotional breadth to the tale.

Also notable was the orchestra, led by conductor Bryan Broughton and instrumentalists Tara Long, Sadi Gomez, Leigh Simpson, Will Shea, and Ewan Wickward. Their sound was balanced, never overpowering the actors, yet kept the tempo and pace held high for the duration of the show.

Once on This Island is all about storytelling, and director (Domonic Barnes) and producer (Sean Pedrick) should be proud of the enchanting story they told on the Levoy stage. The rest of the production team includes: Erin Galcynski, Maria Dixon, Chris Watts, Mary Boner, Carrie Ellis, John Rattacasa, Mariah Fabel, and Lea Matarazzo.

If you are able to get to the Levoy to see this show, I highly recommend it. Additionally, I encourage you to check out the Levoy’s website to see the list of their upcoming shows- if Once on This Island is any indication, you won’t regret it! Tickets can be found at: https://www.etix.com/ticket/e/1039050/once-on-this-island-millville-levoy-theatre?partner_id=240




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