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|First published in the Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2001
|For the Love of Freedom, Part One: Toussaint (The Soul) Rise
|544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
"For the Love of Freedom: Toussaint (The Soul), Rise and Revolution," at the
Greenway Court Theatre, offers a dramatic overview of one of the more fascinating episodes
in world history.
After the French Revolution in 1789, people of color on Saint-Domingue, or Haiti as it is
now known, united to throw off the yoke of slavery. The spark that ignited this rebellion
was France's refusal to grant blacks the rights and citizenship guaranteed in its famous
"Declaration of the Rights of Man."
Under the leadership of Gen. Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Caribbean conflict raged for 13
years. Toussaint ultimately met with exile and death, but his people won freedom and
autonomy, forming the first independent black nation in the Western world.
Playwright Levy Lee Simon undertakes a massively complicated subject in his world premiere
play, which clocks in at just under four hours. Considering that this is Part 1 in a
trilogy on Haitian history, the sheer scope of the project boggles the mind - and
challenges the tailbone.
Even at that seemingly leisurely running time, Simon has had to omit certain historical
circumstances to the point of incomprehensibility. Toussaint's alliance with the Spanish -
and his subsequent break with them - is dealt with in such a cursory fashion that its
significance is largely lost. And when Simon spends a significant portion of Act 3
outlining the sexual exploits of Napoleon's salacious sister, one can't help but feel that
his emphasis is misplaced.
Simon casts his net so wide, a few fish necessarily elude him. Though his drama is
rough-edged and sprawling, it is nonetheless a hugely ambitious undertaking.
Director Ben Guillory's muscular staging for the Robey Theatre Company and Greenway Arts
Alliance is also a tactical feat in itself. There are 30-plus actors in the cast, but
congestion is never a problem, thanks to Guillory's logistical expertise and the
malleability of Tom Meleck's platform set. Musical director Leon Mobley presides over the
driving live percussion that punctuates the evening. The production elements are superb,
and the performers, especially M. Darnell Suttles in the title role, bring poignancy and
clarity to this unjustly neglected event, a triumph of raw heroism over the colonial
|F. KATLEEN FOLEY, Special to Los Angeles Times
|Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of
democracy and human rights