Rosa Guy's Mystic musical
by Bill Rodriguez
MYSTIC FALLS. By Rosa Guy.
Directed by Elmo-Terry Morgan. Music by Bill Toles. With Nina Freeman, Raffini,
Janell Baptista, Kevin Oliveria, Cilla Bento, Luis Pagan, Theodore Fleming,
Laura Rubin, Misty Wilson. At Rites & Reason Theatre through May 25.
In the American popular imagination, Trinidad has long been peopled by a
joyful, Calypso-singing folk, colorfully garbed and without a care in the
world. Work-in-progress Mystic Falls, by Rosa Guy, keeps the joy but
tosses out the stereotypes in a premiere production by Rites & Reason
Theatre, the Brown research theater. The musical and its many characters are
nothing if not complex.
The first two of its dozen songs has lyrics by Guy, the first of which strikes
and sustains a note of easy elation that the rest of the musical tries hard to
build upon. The song is "Mystic Falls Come Wit' Me" and relies on the catchy
refrain "Jump up joo-vay" -- "jour ouvert" is French for opening of the
day, a traditional shout on Carnival Monday, when costumed revelers pour into
the streets. That makes for a directness and simplicity hard to match as
Trinidad-born Guy adds villagers and ancient spirits and enough conflicts and
aspirations to bulge the covers of one of her many novels -- one of which,
My Love, My Love, was adapted for Broadway in 1990.
In Mystic Falls we watch a long-simmering inter-family feud boiling
over, a couple of young love matches running their courses, ghosts mingling
with the villagers and guiding their actions, natural disasters striking, and
off- island successes luring people out of their tropical paradise.
(A caution: despite the glossary in the program and dialect coaching, the
language often is tough to follow, especially at the beginning, when there is
so much vital back story for us to keep track of.)
As the tale opens, drought has been withering the island for five years.
Tsk-tsking over local troubles for far longer are two ancient spirits, Vexelia
(Raffini) and Diablo (Nina Freeman), dressed in the tattered garb of Carnival
celebrants. (A nice touch is how characters talk and argue with the ancients as
though they are fellow villagers.) The topic of current concern is a dispute
between the Watlins and the Santiagos over which family really owns Mystic
Falls, a now-parched water course of financial as well as spiritual value.
Patriarch Reginald Watlin (Theodore Fleming) has a hot temper and is
predisposed to shooting off a gun as well his mouth when the subject comes up.
His Santiago nemesis is Antonio (Kevin Oliveira), whose style is to scheme
rather than get violent, a crafty gleam in his eye.
The one voice of reason amidst all this greed and enmity is that of Raleigh
Santiago (Janell Baptista), who has been lamenting that property on the unnamed
Caribbean island has been bought up, with hotels and resorts taking over and
working men like himself (he wears a carpenter apron throughout the show)
finding jobs only as servants. That old story. To Raleigh the problem has
struck especially close to home, since his father has decided to give his
contested ownership of the falls to younger son Denzil (Luis Pagan), who has
moved to New York and arranged with off-islanders to sell it for a fortune.
When we finally meet the cocky and much-talked-about Denzil, a brief but
illuminating description by him sums up the state of mind he typifies: when he
arrived in New York City from the poor island, he went to the top of the
tallest building to talk to God, who told him he could accomplish whatever he
set out to do. A related characterization that succeeds is that of his mother,
Aida (Cilla Bento), who proudly wears the high-heel shoes he brought her and
dreams of strutting proudly down Manhattan sidewalks.
Director Elmo-Terry Morgan collaborates on most of the songs with co-director
Marsha Z. West; Bill Toles wrote the music. The impulse to sell away the island
piece by piece is gotten across well in "Workin' Mahn's Dream," in which
villagers see it's "time to grab a Yankee opportunity." Some other songs carry
us and the story along nicely, such as "Santiago Men De So Sweet," which
continues: "one smile knock you offa your feet." The love songs are more
problematical, though, since there's too much else going on to develop those
relationships adequately. Try this on for size: Raleigh Santiago loves Diane
Watlin (Laura Rubin), but she has a thing for Denzil, who is seduced by her
sister Flora (Misty Wilson), who is possessed by the evil spirit of her mother,
Marquita (Pamela Lambert). When a musical plays musical chairs with love
relationships, that better be all it tries to do.
To freshen the metaphor, Mystic Falls unfortunately tries to keep too
many balls in the air. So either the arcs are too short to impress us or are so
high we lose track of them. The musical is filigreed with so many details and
convolutions that it seems like it's been slavishly adapted from a novel. There
is room in this musical for an inter-generational saga, a tale of
socio-economic ferment, or a series of convoluted romantic entanglements, but
not all three. However, as a production still in gestation, Mystic Falls
still has the opportunity to decide what it wants to be.