The opening weekend of MA’s Playhouse production of “Ti Jean and His Brothers” brought the classic folktale to the stage in Brooklyn, with a bit of a twist.
The timeless piece by St. Lucian playwright and poet Derek Walcott explores the fight between good and evil as three brothers each try to defeat the devil in an attempt to escape poverty.
The folktale is told by animals of the forest through dance, song and dialogue. Only in this version, directed by Antonevia Ocho-Coultes, the animals all have different accents.“I kept the brothers Caribbean and I just opened everything else out to the world because the world itself is so multicultural,” she said.
“I wanted to express that.”
Ocho-Coultes, who is from Trinidad and co-founder of Ma’s Playhouse, has lived in the United States for 10 years and earned her master’s degree in acting from Brooklyn College. While she enjoyed her experience there, she always felt that one thing that was missing from scripts in general were Caribbean roles.
She wanted to change that.
“When I graduated I really kind of set about wanting to create a space where we could be ourselves, without having to go to auditions and hear people say, ‘umm, so can you do that without the accent?’” she said.
Ocho-Coultes says it was a recurring experience that ultimately made her feel like she wasn’t good enough. What she wanted to do with her version of the Walcott classic is celebrate accents.
As Ti Jean and his brothers travel through the forest, they encounter a bird, a frog, a cricket, a firefly and even a goat. The masked actors move and make sounds just like the animals they portray.
Says Anel Carmona, who plays Cricket: “We are there to show the people, show the audience that the forest is life,” she said. “We try to prevent the brothers from doing anything stupid and yet we don’t succeed on that.”
Ti Jean’s brothers, Gros Jean and Mi Jean, are overconfident and shun advice. When they set out to find their fortunes they don’t heed any warnings. They are not even able to tell that the plantation owner and the old man in the forest are really the devil in disguise, until it’s too late.
Their arrogance ultimately leads to their demise at the hands of the devil. But Ti Jean, the youngest of the three brothers, listens to warnings of the forest animals. He is able to confront the devil and defeat him.
The story of “Ti Jean and His Brothers” is very dear to Ocho-Coultes. When she was in high school this play was one of the first she acted in, and it made her want to pursue a career in theater.
Ocho-Coultes says MA’s Playhouse was created to celebrate the Caribbean voice and the Caribbean heritage, but also to encourage a lot of multicultural exchanges.
“I feel like there is such a large Caribbean contingent in all of the boroughs and I just don’t feel like right now we’re represented well in theater and in film,” she explained. “I created this so that soon they will start asking for Caribbean roles.”
MA’s Playhouse production of “Ti Jean and His Brothers” will be featured at St. Francis College’s Maroney Theater in Brooklyn for two more performances on June 26 and 27.
Information about the show and MA’s Playhouse can be found at www.masplayhouse.com.
By Melissa Noel | VOICES OF NY