By Johanna Sommer
As the house lights came up, signaling the end of the show, audience members shuffled out of the theater with occasional whispers of “What did I just see?”
The debut performance of Edwidge Danticat’s play Bastille Day on Sept. 27 filled the Humanities Theatre with eager viewers of all ages. The show was just under an hour and a half, ranging in emotional intensity from intimate and tender to volatile and explosive.
Performances from senior Purchase students Elizabeth Cook (Natasha Lecoin), Jacob Rodriguez (Oscar Vernet), Chelsie Sutherland (Quinn McIntyre), and most notably Travis Raeburn (Philipe Lecoin) granted a full standing ovation.
The play tells the story of a dinner party held by Natasha, a young artist, and attended by her old lover Oscar, uncle Philipe, and his partner Quinn. Three of the members, excluding Quinn, are survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, all struggling to cope with their losses from the tragedy.
The tone is aggrieved and at times temperamental due to the asking of favors and misplaced blame. The victims reach a sort of catharsis by the end, but it’s up to the viewers to interpret just how so.
Bastille Day is the first play of Danticat’s to ever be performed. She is also the author of seven published books that all focus on Haitian culture.
On Thursday, Oct. 3, Danticat sat down with Bastille Day’s director Alexandre Correia and discussed what inspired her to write the play, along with her approach to writing. Many topics were discussed, such as disaster capitalism, Danticat’s personal loss from the 2010 earthquake, and what made Correia choose to take on this play in the first place.
When editing Bastille Day, Danticat’s original 138-page script was eventually cut down to just 48 pages, the shift in medium being a real challenge for her. In her discussion with Correia, she spoke about how different the process of a play writing versus a novel writing is.
“This medium [theater] is super collaborative, whereas when you write fiction it is a very solitary activity,” Danicat said.
Casting for Bastille Day was held on the second day of the current fall semester, with rehearsals starting on the third. The actors had around three weeks to prepare the material, and to become acquainted with the history they were performing.
“I know the audience is probably not going to have that much knowledge about the play, said Raeburn.
“We had to do a lot of research to make sure that was fulfilled so, hopefully, the audience would follow what we were doing.”
The cast appeared to have a deep understanding of the subject material they were discussing, and three of the four spoke solely in thick Haitian accents throughout the duration of the play. The stage design transformed the setting with paintings that reached the ceiling, placing viewers in an artist’s home filled with bright colors and welcoming furniture.
When the play finished, an artificial ambience of colored lights and smoke effects left a lasting impression, aiding to the hazy trance viewers are left in before reflection.
The remaining shows for Bastille Day take place on Oct. 4 and 5 in the Humanities Theatre.