January 05 – 11, 2005
Vol. 22, No. 43
“HOW PAPA NOEL FORGOT HAITI”: THE POLITICS OF CHRISTMAS
by Margaret Féquière
“How Papa Noël Forgot Haiti” is a lovely musical, co-written by Paul Uhry Newman and Jean Jean-Pierre and directed by Paul Uhry Newman, about a Gonaïves family coping with economic hardship and the devastating impact of Hurricane Jeanne, which ravaged Haiti’s northwest last September.
Paul Uhry Newman along with Jean Jean-Pierre and Mapou Productions deliver a highly political play about Haiti’s culture and current events, mixed with a bit of history. So far, there has only been one performance on Christmas Eve at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
Dancers wearing traditional white costumes and performing folkloric Haitian dance routines open the play with a narrator introducing the story. It is a happy, chaotic, and fast-paced scene until the young sick child named Magali, played by Danika Silencieux, sings Haiti’s most popular and beloved Christmas song, Petit Papa Noël.1 Ms. Silencieux’s powerful voice captured the audience.
Magali is sick and her only desire is to put together a lantern that will shine so brightly that Papa Noel can find his way to Haiti. The country, wracked by economic woes, political turmoil, and natural disasters like Hurricane Jeanne, sorely needs him. Papa Noël, played by Hollywood actor Danny Glover, expresses his esteem for the Haitian people and their on-going struggle for freedom and development. But he allows himself to be caught up in a political web created by Haiti’s so-called “friends,” powers like the U.S. and France.
Tant Viktwa (Carole Alexis), the narrator and Magali’s neighbor, tells us that children are dying all over the island from preventable diseases. Magali, she explains, is a survivor thanks to the financial generosity of an aunt living in Miami.
When the generous aunt, Celina, played by Myriam Barthélus, comes for a visit, the play takes a humorous turn. Celina’s arrival highlights the comic but thorny tensions which have developed between Haitians living in the diaspora and those in Haiti. Haitians in the audience were particularly delighted with the cultural clashes portrayed.
The play’s message, of course, is about the true meaning of Christmas and Santa Claus, or Papa Noël. As in most Christmas plays, we learn that the season is about altruism and solidarity. Different characters present this, from a Cuban doctor tirelessly giving his services in Haiti’s hills to Magali’s generous aunt.
As her family and friends pull together to help Magali through her illness, we are reminded that the true meaning of Christmas is not about Papa Noël bringing gifts but rather about how Papa Noël lives within each and every one of us based on what we do throughout the year to help our fellow human beings. For Haitians living in the diaspora, it is about working hard in a country that is not yours and finding the means to help support family members back home. This musical will resonate especially with immigrants, as it depicts their struggles.
Although the actors delivered fine performances, the acoustics of the hall at Lincoln Center were terrible. Key scenes became unintelligible, such as that where Papa Noel’s helper, Watson (Emmanuel Obas), tells the history of Haiti and the finale, when the Cuban doctor and other characters deliver the play’s closing message.
About the performance
How Papa Noël Forgot Haiti at Lincoln Center December 24, 2004 from 8:00 till 10:00 PM.
With Danny Glover, Erna Letemps, Jean Claude Eugène, Danika Silencieux, Emanuel Obas, Myriam Barthelus, Carole Alexis, Michel Lemorin, Israel Samedy, Pierre Alix Haspil.
Written by Paul Uhry Newman and Jean Jean-Pierre
Music by Jean Jean-Pierre / Lyrics by Paul Uhry Newman. Performed by “Kiskeya: The Haitian Orchestra” of Jean Jean-Pierre.
Dance by The Ballet Bacoulou of Haiti directed by Yvrose Green – Choreography: Peniel Guerrier
How Papa Noel Forgot Haiti is the story of Magali, a schoolgirl full of intelligence and hope, and her dreams of a visit, at long last, to Haiti by Papa Noël. It is a story that demands to be told. It is a parable for a new day that finds its power in the dreams of a child.