The Hippo


Jun 3, 2020








The Community Players of Concord present its twist on Once on This Island this weekend. Courtesy photo.

Once on This Island

Where: Concord City Auditorium, 2 Prince St., Concord
When: Friday, Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday Nov. 20, 2 p.m.
Admission: $18-$20

Beyond surfaces
Concord Players take on prejudice

By Kelly Sennott

 Once on This Island is about how, too often, arbitrary differences divide humans unnecessarily — an important message today especially, Community Players of Concord Director Bryan Halperin said during a phone interview last week. 

The Players perform the one-act sung-through musical, based on My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, at the Concord City Auditorium this weekend, with showtimes Nov. 18 through Nov. 20. 
The original Broadway production, with music by Stephen Flaherty and book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, went up from 1990 to 1991, and the 1994 West End production won the 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It starts during a stormy night in Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, where a group of village storytellers offer comfort to a crying girl by telling her the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls for a wealthy boy from the other side of her island. 
Not many New Hampshire theaters take on the play because the traditionally all-African-American cast can be difficult to find within the state’s demographic. But Halperin, a fan of the music, had been wanting to direct Once on This Island for a while.
“I was looking for an appropriate time, place and group it might work for. When I saw Concord was looking for directors last year, I pitched it to them,” Halperin said. “I had a take on it they thought was exciting, and something new to bring to community theater.”
Halperin’s version starts in a gymnasium, with cinderblock walls, bleachers and decorations for a school-wide masquerade that lay forgotten due to an oncoming storm — the school has turned into a shelter. Instead of village storytellers, it’s a group of Red Cross volunteers who tell the story of Ti Moune to help calm down a frightened child, using materials at hand and asking the little girl to fill in the blanks with her imagination.
Umbrellas perched on ladders become trees, and a disco ball flashing lights brings in a glittery storm. A toy car careening down a hill turns into an on-stage automobile accident, and when the sun rises, two actors will lift a third holding and opening a yellow umbrella. To illustrate the story’s opposing groups, actors wear masquerade masks of two different colors.
“It’s storytelling theater. We’re not looking to make everything realistic,” Halperin said. “It gives the audience an opportunity to use their imagination, and it gives the cast the opportunity to be creative in how we bring things to life.”
Players president Kathryn Hodges said the theater board liked the proposal because of its unusual presentation and because of its commentary on superficial differences, whether they be race, religion or political affiliations.
“The underlying themes are, surface is just surface. Black, mulatto, French, white, it doesn’t matter; when these two young people fall in love, their masks fall away. They don’t see their differences. They see each other,” Hodges said.
Hodges said the musical drew a crowd of new faces; of the 29-member cast, 14 are new to the Players, as are Halperin, Music Director Troy Lucia and Choreographer Jen Sassak. They collectively hail from 15 Granite State cities and towns and have been working hard on this challenging production, which is almost entirely sung through and contains intensive dance footwork.
Even with its heavy-hitting theme, Halperin said it’s a fun show to watch and, with a 90-minute run time, accessible for viewers young and old.
“The world would be a better place if we stop letting these differences divide us and instead look at people as individuals in their own merits. … In a state like New Hampshire, where there isn’t a ton of diversity, it’s important to show our kids these stories and teach these lessons that you won’t experience in your day-to-day lives living in New Hampshire,” he said. “You can be tapping your toes, humming along with a big smile on your face while taking in important messages and having empathy for characters on stage.” 

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