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Theater Review: "The Last Tiger In Haiti"

Reggie D. White, Clinton Roane, Andy Lucien, Brittany Bellizeare and Jasmine St. Clair in "The Last Tiger In Haiti."
Photo credit:
Jim Carmody

Time is mushy and truth variable (an understatement) in the world premiere of Jeff Augustin’s “The Last Tiger In Haiti,” where five kids of varying ages serve “Mister” as restaveks (slaves) until they are 18, when they will be freed.

“Last Tiger” is a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

They perform various menial tasks, some also serving sexual functions for Mister.

They all live together in a makeshift tent shack somewhere in Port-au-Prince, and appear to use storytelling as an escape from the horror of their young lives.

The eldest is 18-year-old Max (Andy Lucien), about to be freed. He seems to have taken a protective interest in Rose (Brittany Bellizeare), at 11 the youngest. And she appears to depend on him.

Emmanuel (Clinton Roane) and Laurie (Jasmine St. Clair), at 17, will be next out. Joseph (Reggie D. White), an angry 15-year-old, is the fifth slave.

Takeshi Kata’s first-act set suggests dire circumstances, but we don’t hear about anything except the universal fear of Mister’s displeasure.

It seems these kids are biding their time until the magic birthday, but unfortunately that makes for little in the way of theatrical drama. Who are they?

The program note says many poverty-stricken parents give their children away to more prosperous families to be used as slaves.

One wonders what happens to them at 18, when they are finally freed.

The time is 2008, the year of the devastating Hurricane Hanna, which even in its weakened tropical storm version killed more than 500 people in Haiti.

I was thinking maybe this natural disaster would figure in, but it isn’t even mentioned.

To add to the problems, they speak a particular Haitian-inflected patois with an accent difficult for the American ear to decipher.

Joseph and Emmanuel cavort around in scary devil’s-head masks, presumably because it’s the last day of kanaval (Carnival), but nothing is made of this.

So the audience is left wondering who these kids are and what they’re saying, and why they’re telling stories that seem to have no particular meaning or point  aside from escape (except for Max’s story about that titular tiger).

The second act is even more confusing. Now we’re in a spiffy condo in Miami some 15 years later, where a classy-looking grownup Rose is busy making a literary buck off the Haitian experience.

She’s on a book tour with her new memoir when she gets a visit from Max, who berates her for what he calls lying about the experience. “You created your own truth,” says he.

“That’s what everyone does,” Rose counters. “You can google it.”

Maybe that’s the whole point.

The details

“The Last Tiger In Haiti” plays through July 24, 2016 at the Mandell Weiss Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or LaJollaPlayhouse.org