Miami reality meets Haitian black magic in Jeff Augustin’s Little Children Dream Of God, a stunningly directed, designed, and performed Road Theatre Company West Coast Premiere.
It’s clear from the get-go that Augustin’s play will require no small suspension of disbelief. Not only has pregnant 20something Sula (Jaquita Ta’le) succeeded in floating from Haiti to Miami on a car tire, she’s managed to hold back giving birth to baby Toussaint till her eleventh month, the better to make sure that her unborn child first sees the light of day in the USA.
Finding Sula quite literally on her doorstep is single mother Carolyn (Blaire Chandler), the father of whose eleven offspring just happens to be the very God who just happens to have “disappeared” at pretty much the exact same moment that Sula showed up needing shelter.
Sula’s arrival outside Carolyn’s apartment turns out to be no mere happenstance, however, building manager Joel (Hari Williams) having inherited the aging complex from his aged, now ailing father Joel Sr., a Haitian immigrant who made it his business to make homes for fellow countrymen washed up on Florida shores.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the building’s actual owner turns out to be Joel’s less than generous-hearted uncle, who plans upon his brother’s imminent demise to kick the illegals out and welcome the gentry in, leaving it up to Joel to convince his yuppified cousin Madison (Courtney Sauls) to persuade Daddy to let the immigrants stay.
As Joel finds himself increasingly attracted to Sula, the latter finds herself haunted by nightmares of the frighteningly stoic Toussaint as a sinewed six-footer and by visions of of the voodoo-practicing husband she left behind in Haiti, both roles played by sinewed six-footer Sedale Threatt Jr.
Completing the cast of characters is femmy neighborhood rentboy Vishal (Jonathan Briggs) and Nurse Carolyn’s cranky hundred-plus-year-old Cuban immigrant patient Manuel (Jonathan Nichols), whose presence may not be as peripheral as it first seems.
It less gifted hands than director Andre Barron’s, and with less gifted designers than the team assembled to create a world in which reality becomes magical and magic becomes real, Little Children Dream Of God might come across more than a bit too ambitious for its own good.
Such is mostly not the case at the Road, and if the voodoo elements worked less well for this reviewer than its human relationships, the latter most certainly did, particularly as brought to life by some of the best new and veteran actors in town.
The marvelous Ta’le vanishes inside Sula’s lost, frightened, but determined skin, and with the charismatic, charming, thoroughly natural Williams (think Chris Rock crossed with Will Smith) as her potential love interest, romantic sparks get generated, and then some.
Chandler is acerbic yet maternal perfection as Carolyn, Bangs manages to make what could otherwise be an effeminate stereotype seem authentic, Sauls is a trippy treat as Joel’s black-ish cousin Madison, Threatt makes for a mysterious and menacing pair of characters, and Nichols’ cranky old Cubano steals scenes if not his caregivers’ hearts.
Vividly lit by Derrick McDaniel, Sarah B Brown’s ingeniously designed set gets transformed into locale after locale, some realistic, others magical, thanks to Yee Eun Nam’s gorgeous projection design.
Matt Richter’s strikingly dramatic, atmospheric sound design, Rachel Tisby’s voodoorrific choreography, and Michèle Young’s American and Haitian costumes both real and fanciful complete one of the year’s most stunning intimate theater production designs.
Philip Orazio is assistant director. Emma Pauly is dramaturg. Sachandra Grandoit is dialect coach. Maurie Gonzalez is stage manager.
Little Children Dream Of God is produced by Carlyle King and Taylor Gilbert. Amaka Izuchi, Amani Atkinson, Cherish Monique Duke, and Ronin Lee are understudies.
The best live theater takes you to places you’ve never been and introduces you to people you’d never under normal circumstances be likely to meet. Little Children Dream Of God does both, earning every decibel of the cheers that greet its pitch-perfect final fade to black.
The Road On Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
March 26, 2017
Photos: Michèle Young