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Haiti: Already Hit of the Season

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The sound of drums greets the ear as the preamble to Theatricum Botanicum’s Haiti, now running in repertory through the summer. Along with exuberant dancing, the drums herald a history lesson wrapped in a satisfying, swashbuckling adventure, where the clearly delineated good guys vanquish the foppish bad guys against all odds.

Theatricum is the first company to tackle the play since its premiere in New York City in 1938. Created as part of the Federal Theatre Project, Haiti created a sensation. As history, it tells the story of French efforts to re-enslave inhabitants when Napoleon decided the island would make a great staging area for Western expansion; that is, until the aristocratic officers were outlasted and finally overthrown by a band of free Haitians.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Ellen Geer, from top to bottom, the entire ensemble works beautifully together to create the ambiance and mood of an old-fashioned melodrama where audiences cheer the heroes and boo the villains, and, on opening night, that is exactly what happened. Audiences unused to such an over-the-top style will delight in the opportunity to stomp and cheer.

Geer keeps the adventure bubbling along, having tweaked the original a bit by casting the indomitable Ernestine Phillips as “Jaqueline,” in a role that was originally designed for “Jacques” (in keeping with the historical record). This substitution not only works seamlessly, but it deepens the relationship between mother and her daughter, Odette (played by Tiffany Coty), who grew up as white in the French court. Since the mansion constitutes her inheritance, her arrival plays a key role in determining the success of the rebellion.

An especially appealing characterization comes from Rodrick Jean-Charles as the venerable Touissant L’Ouverture, who helmed the Haitian resistance until he ceded the fight to his successor, Christophe (Max Lawrence). With the help of Jaqueline, Christophe mounted a guerrilla offensive, finally driving Napoleon’s remaining troops into the sea. In perfect depictions of melodramatic heroes, these French-educated resistance fighters are honest and true. Geer effectively contrasts the effete French aristocracy with the rootin’, tootin’ can-do spirit the Haitians represent. Although the only vice General LeClerc (Mark Lewis) exhibits seems to be his death from Malaria, the dastardly Colonel Boucher is a quintessential villain. In a smaller role, Holly Hawk as Nurse Aimee has moments of rebellion.

Dance choreographer Jessica Moneà Edwards provides the dance moves contrasting with vigorous stage combat, choreographed by fight choreographer Dane Oliver who provides a great, climactic sword fight that clinches the battle of good and evil. Set designer Ernest McDaniel blends the permanent set with the needs of the play, utilizing every corner of Theatricum’s bucolic setting, while costumer Beth Eslick captures the Empire flavor of the early 19th century. Other values – the lighting by Zachary Moore and sound by Marshall McDaniel – beautifully integrate the melodrama.

Theatricum Botanicum performs Haiti in rotation during its summer season, mixing Shakespearean plays and modern fare through September 30, 2018 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga 90290. Tickets range from $10.00 to $38.50.  Phone (310) 455-3723 or online, for exact schedule and ticket information.






Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.