On Monday 4 April at 9 PM, the Sala Aurelia at the American Academy’s Villa Aurelia was transformed into a theater space and resonated with the sights and sounds of the Caribbean, as Nobel Laureate and William B. Hart Resident Poet Derek Walcott led a cast including actors Wendell Manwarren, Giovanna Bozzolo and Dean Atta in the world premiere reading of his new play Moon-Child (Ti Jean in Concert).
Derek Walcott was born in St. Lucia (West Indies) and has lived there for most of his life, with frequent travel and teaching abroad, including in the United States (where he taught at Boston University until 2007). In addition to being the author of sixteen books of poetry, Walcott is also a theater director and playwright, and founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959 and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in 1981. He has written many plays, and also wrote the lyrics for Paul Simon’s musical The Cape Man.
Walcott’s new work revisits his 1958 play Ti-Jean and His Brothers, first presented at the Little Carib Theatre in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Mr. Walcott, who is the William B. Hart Poet-in-Residence at the AAR from March 15 to April 15, himself read the role of the Conteur (Narrator or Tale-Teller) and assembled a cast including veteran actors Wendell Manwarren (Trinidad) and Giovanna Bozzolo (Italy) as well as young actor Dean Atta (U.K.) for an intensive week of rehearsals leading up to a standing room-only performance (a second performance was added later in the evening to accommodate the overflow crowd).
The ambitious reading of Moon-Child (Ti Jean in Concert) included a sound score by St. Lucia composer Ronald “Boo” Hinkson, projected images of paintings of St. Lucia and its people by Mr. Walcott and his son Peter Walcott (like his father an accomplished visual artist), and a simultaneous projection of the Italian translation of the play, in rhymed verse, commissioned by the AAR for this occasion from poet Matteo Campagnoli.
Written in rhymed verse, Moon-Child is an extraordinary weaving together of Walcott’s deep love of the natural features of his native island, elements of Creole song and story—in this case, concerning a poor widow, her three sons and poor parcel of land, and a rapacious Planter who is also the Devil—and a plotline of sin and redemption that is nothing less than Miltonic in its power. Indeed, until another poet succeeds in rewriting Paradise Lost for our own time, Moon-Child will stand as a beautiful and worthy folk-successor to its mighty original.
Derek Walcott has dedicated much of his creative life to making a place for poets in the contemporary theater, and the fusion of image, music and text offered by his own verse plays provides audiences with an unforgettable experience. Working with only temporary theatrical resources, and aided by stage manager Janna Lundius, the cast of Moon-Child delivered a performance of great liveliness and intensity.
The American Academy is proud to have hosted the first public reading of this new play, which will certainly have a life far beyond Rome. The event is made possible by the Maria Cox and New Initiatives for Don Fund.