note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Janine de Souza
With the downturn in the economy, “staycations” have become all the rage. The idea is to save money by staying close to home and finding something interesting to do. Instead of pitching a tent in your own backyard and eating half-burnt smores or traveling in a car three hours to see a leaf turn red, why not find the perfect “staycation” in neighboring Watertown at Blue Spruce’s ONCE ON THIS ISLAND (now playing at the Arsenal Center for the Arts)? For a mere $25, you can evade the hassle of airport security and be magically transported to “The Jewel of the Antilles.”
Under the joyful direction of Jennifer Condon and Jesse Strachman, Ahrens and Flaherty’s charming ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, bounds to life. Inspired by THE LITTLE MERMAID, this is another story of impossible love. Instead of underwater, this tale takes place on land (Haiti) and the division is class, not species. Overseeing this love story are a gang of benevolent and malevolent Gods: Aska (Mother of the Earth – Kendra Alati), Agwe (God of Water – Steven Martin), Erzulie (Goddess of Love – Alaina Fragoso), and Papa Ge (Demon of Death – David Lucey). The Gods amuse themselves by arranging a chance meeting between a handsome young colonialist, Daniel Beauxhomme (David Carney), and an island girl named Ti Moune, played by an ingenuous actress named Alexa Niziak and later by Kira Cowan. The union is doomed from the start as Daniel is promised to a sophisticated French socialite. In his words, there are “some girls you marry and some you love.” Heartbroken, Ti Moune sacrifices her own life, but lives on for future generations as a majestic tree which shelters and inspires the ones she loves.
To say the cast was having fun is a complete understatement. They bounce, leap, and at times, even cartwheel across the playfully fish-netted set. Of course, I’ve never met a Caribbean beat that I didn’t like and the band delivers under the skillful direction of Dan Rodriquez. The contagious energy and music, along with Lindsay Hurley’s colorful costumes and Emily Lamkin’s exotic makeup, give this version of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND a hip and edgy feel. This surreal and otherworldly vibe makes you think Tim Burton had a hand in the production which is perfect for Halloween.
The only thing missing for me is a margarita!
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is running until October 24th .