"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."
"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."
"The finest production yet from
this young company … John Brennan is totally superb … definitely
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.