The Lion in Captivity

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The dungeon in which Toussaint Louverture died
Review of The Lion in Captivity, a theatrical play as performed in Brooklyn, NY at the Paul Robeson Theater (October 4, 2004 - November 28, 2004).

Theater Review:
The Lion in Captivity

by Margaret Féquière
November 24, 2004

(Haïti Progrès/Brooklyn,NY) The Lion in Captivity is an outstanding play by Dr. Sal Westrich about the imprisonment and death of Toussaint Louverture. It depicts how he dealt with the agony of his brutal imprisonment at the Chateau de Joux in the frigid Jura Mountains on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the show currently running at the Paul Robeson Theater in downtown Brooklyn, the main character is played by Guyanese born Kirt Harding, who gives a mesmerizing performance, interpreting Toussaint’s final years.

The venue is a perfect match for the play. Not only because of Paul Robeson’s lifelong dedication to the struggle of oppressed people but also because of the theater’s austere 19th-century architecture. On the rainy night of the premiere, the theater was cold and moist, just like Toussaint’s mountain cell must have been.

Edward Tyler, playing Toussaint’s servant [Mars Plaisir], gives a compelling performance and leaves a vivid impression of the conditions under which the Haitian revolution’s leader was imprisoned. Director Evria Atwell presents Louverture not as an untouchable hero but rather as a proud man who is determined not to lose his self-respect and sanity in spite of his sufferings. Alexander Bilu, the actor playing General Caffarelli, Bonaparte’s envoy, superbly renders his character’s initial arrogance, but also the personal feelings he came to have for Louverture at the end.

As a Haitian woman, I felt proud to watch such a performance and to hear traditional Haitian songs being sung by a non-Haitian cast. The music often accompanied unearthly sequences, such as when the spirits of Boukman, the Haitian revolution’s initiator, and of Louverture’s contemporaries visit him at varying points during the play.

“The spirit of Toussaint L’Ouverture and what he fought for transcends Haiti,” said director Atwell. “It is a universal theme, especially at this time when our freedom and quality of life is being threatened.”

This play is extraordinary and should be seeing not only by my fellow Haitians but by all young black men and women throughout the tri-state area. It delivers many subtle messages about who we are and the powers that we have within us. The actors show Toussaint Louverture as an historical figure whose influence and messages are still timely and relevant.

See also

Reference

  • Haïti Progrès - This Week in Haiti: November 24, 2004