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Folktales told in ‘The Last Tiger in Haiti’ at La Jolla Playhouse

Playwright Jeff Augustin (left) and director Joshua Kahan Brody work on the Playhouse’s world premiere of ‘The Last Tiger in Haiti.’
Playwright Jeff Augustin (left) and director Joshua Kahan Brody work on the Playhouse's world premiere of ‘The Last Tiger in Haiti.’
Jim Carmody

“A beautiful example of storytelling,” is how La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley classifies ‘The Last Tiger in Haiti,’ running June 28-July 24 in the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre on the UC San Diego campus. Written by Jeff Augustin (“That High Lonesome Sound”) and directed by Joshua Kahan Brody (“The Nightingale” and “The Who & The What”), the world premiere is a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Brody said he felt an immediate attachment to the script when his friend and schoolmate Augustin – influenced by his Haitian heritage – asked him to direct it. ‘The Last Tiger in Haiti,’ begins on the last night of Kanaval, a celebration held over several weeks each year that leads up to Mardi Gras, where five children become “restaveks” – child slaves indentured in servitude.

“I love this play because it’s highly theatrical without being a spectacle,” Brody said. “I enjoy the storytelling elements, and this is an important issue. I didn’t know there were child slaves still in Haiti.”

As the story unfolds, the Haitian children (played by adults) are given to slightly better-off families, who then (in theory), are supposed to provide a better education for them. But instead, these families make them work hard and some are sexually abused until they are 18 years old, when they are set free.

“As part of the tradition the kids tell stories,” Brody said. “When a storyteller wants to tell a story he will say ‘krik.’ Someone who wants to hear the story will say ‘krak.’ It’s kind of a competition to see whose story is the best. In ‘The Last Tiger in Haiti,’ a series of things change and lives are drastically altered by betrayals and a battle of wills. It’s all about a means to survive.”

The cast features Brittany Bellizeare as “Rose,” Clinton Roane as “Emmanuel,” Andy Lucien (DNA New Work Series) as “Max,” Jasmine St. Clair (“Sideways”) as “Laurie” and Reggie D. White as “Joseph.”

The creative team includes scenic designer Takeshi Kata, costume designer Dede Ayite, lighting by Alexander Nichols, sound designer Nick Drashner, dramaturg Gabriel Greene and stage manager Matthew Melchiorre.

Brody said he feels a real passion for the play and its message, which goes beyond Augustin’s proficiency with subtext, language and imagery. “It’s a story about healing, love, and why and how we’re able to love people who have done us wrong and abused and betrayed us,” Brody said. “So it’s also about forgiveness and who has the right to tell that story, which right now, I think is a very important question.”

IF YOU GO: “The Last Tiger in Haiti,” runs June 28-July 24 in the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UCSD campus. Tickets from $20. (858) 550-1010. lajollaplayhouse.org