written by Philip Freund
directed by Gregory Stuart

in the indoor amphitheatre of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial

"An entertaining potboiler … as Catherine, Paula Alprin is a study in brittle arrogance, her imperious façade cracking before our eyes as she confronts the results of giving in to her primitive needs … Lolita-Marie successfully balances the devotion of Catherine's lifelong maid with the woman's barely contained resentments … The attention to cultural detail … is remarkable and absorbing, anchored by Terry Spann's inspired performance."
—Michael J. Toscano, The Washington Post

"Paula Alprin finds both pathos and poise in Catherine’s predicament … the best moments come toward the end, as Catherine and her confidante (an agreeable Lolita-Marie) confront the story’s horrible truths and wrestle with questions of responsibility and fate."
— Trey Graham, Washington City Paper

"The finest production yet from this young company … John Brennan is totally superb … definitely a 'recommend.'"
— Bob Anthony, AllArtsReview4u

Catherine de la Célianne: PAULA ALPRIN
Hieron Labat: BRUCE KAPLAN
Gabou, the Gan-gan: TERRY SPANN
Augustin Vauclain: JASON B. MCINTOSH

Set and Sound Designer: TODD F. EDWARDS
Lighting Designer: KLYPH STANFORD
Costume Designer: MIO HASEGAWA
Makeup Designer: SHEILA R. HYMAN
Properties Designer: THEONI PANAGOPOULOS

In Jocasta, Philip Freund has cleverly taken the story of Oedipus Rex, re-located it to a more modern setting, turned the emphasis away from the son who kills his father and marries his mother, and instead shines the spotlight on Jocasta, the mother/wife figure, allowing us to experience the tragedy through her eyes. He preserves the inevitable march of events towards tragedy and imbues his Jocasta character with all of fatalistic curiosity of Oedipus. And, as in Greek tragedy, this play addresses the universal questions: “Why are we here?” “How can we know the will of the gods?” “What meaning does life have in the face of death?”

In Freund’s treatment, the island of Martinique in the French West Indies in the year 1890 serves as the backdrop for the story. His choice of locale is significant in that life in Martinique was marked by racial tensions due to the extreme social and economic stratification between the well-to-do white population of Europeans and European descendants and the impoverished Afro-Caribbean population. Slavery had been abolished in Martinique in 1848, only forty-two years earlier, and the free black population largely had to rely on work in the sugar cane fields as a means to make a meager living. In contrast, Freund chose to make the heroine of the play the richest woman in Martinique, placing the majority of the action at her villa in the capital city of St. Pierre, at that time the “Paris of the French Antilles.”

Freund has taken Sophocles’ story and intensified it by placing it in a period society of strict moral conventions, one where the predominant tone is that of racial tension. Jocasta is a play about the consequences of deviant behavior in a rigid society. In this society, marked by oppression, the rigid conventions of dominance, created to protect the whites from any chance of Creole uprising, kept the whites fearful and vigilant. There were few white women on the island compared to the number of white men. Consequently, when a man was found to be having relations with a black woman, society looked the other way. But when a white woman had relations with a black man it was scandalous. The character of Paul Pitou is the voice of morality and convention in this Martinican society, commenting on the action much like the Chorus in Greek tragedy. He says, “You can’t break the conventions—the laws of God and man—without bringing disaster on yourself.” At another point he posits, “If a man scorns morality—if he considers himself above or beyond it—anything becomes possible to him—murder, incest, rape.”

Catherine de la Célianne, the Jocasta character in this play, who early in her life indulged her attraction to the darker skinned race, was rescued from the consequences of her deviant behavior, lived a normal life, faithful to her older white husband, only to indulge again in her widowhood. Secrets begin to be revealed, not all at once but in parts, and the plot unfolds. Revelations breed curiosity to get to the bottom of situations, which ultimately lead to the inevitable tragic discovery.

In this society governed by fear, the tragedy seems unpreventable. Yet we modern viewers perceive that tragedy could have been prevented if the characters had just been courageous enough to communicate with each other, or been really responsible for their actions. Pitou observes that “in this world it’s more than enough for everyone to be responsible for himself.” He speaks what is perhaps the universal truth that we all can take away from the play to apply in our own lives.


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Photography by Stan Barouh