Archive: HCX Collaboration | Contemporary Haitian Theatre: Playwright & Novelist Gary Victor

Translated & Resonated: Distinguished Haitian playwright & novelist Gary Victor joined HCX & the Segal Theater for dramatic readings and a peek into a life of comedy and imagination
-Kassandra Khalil, HCX Program Coordinator

On November 21, 2013, “Le Douzième étage”, a translated adaptation performed by Maduka Steady and accompanied by Mr. Jean-Baptiste, followed the hallucination-turned-reality of an actor propositioned by an imagined man to jump from the 12th floor with the promise of sprouting wings just before crashing to the ground for $1 million. In subsequent conversations and asides, it becomes clear that the the actor is insane but is being exploited by his girlfriend, biased media and by the president of Haiti who offers up his cabinet as potential supporting actors to the one-man show. Eventually, he becomes aware of his own insanity but in light of the pressures around him to come through, the man agrees to carry out what will surely be his demise.

"Contemporary Haitian Theatre" at The Segal Theatre (via The Segal Center)

“Contemporary Haitian Theatre” at The Segal Theatre (via The Segal Center)

In a talk back discussion moderated by Haitian literature scholar Thomas Spear and translated by Phyllis Roome, Gary Victor spoke on both pieces and about his techniques for writing and the use of the imaginary and political comedy in his body of work.

Gary said he enjoyed the readings and thought that the lack of staging worked well. He related this back to his work Le Sang et La Mer and the difficulties that adapting a novel for stage poses, explaining that the stripping of the aesthetic in favor of the emotion and essence of each character as the biggest challenge. It translated well and from the response of the audience, they heartily agreed.

The depth of his political commentary in “Le Douzième étage” resonated with me as the use of the obvious metaphor of what the play’s “anonymous actor” (read the Haitian proletariat) is pushed and pulled in the most bizarre but seemingly feasible manners by higher, untouchable forces. This, while still remaining very light hearted, evoked that sad sort of tearful laughter that led questions of exactly what Victor was laughing at. The misguided individual? The gullible public? Surely not. It is the situation that has the humor, Victor said, we laugh at the oddity of the actual events around us.

I must agree. We are controlled by powers that wipe out their own and take the everyman down with them, we are limited by the skewed and tunnel vision of our media. But we, particularly the Haitian “we,” must laugh as a recognition of our consciousness, to cry alone admits our defeat.

The power I found in the excerpts from Le Sang et La Mer stemmed from Victor’s ability to enter the perspective of his characters, the vagueness of their form but the very real nature of the character’s comes through very clearly. When Hérodiane tells the story of her first menses and her brother Estèvel’s reaction: laughing at her fear, welcoming her to womanhood and going to fetch her supplies, the close relationship between elder brother to younger sister gains an element of intimacy tied to their blood yet still other worldly, as if this young man possessed an alternative perspective of life. An understanding of the flows of life and of women. This became much clearly later when Victor explained that the brother was homosexual and in love with the Haitian aquatic deity, Agwé.

When asked about the source of his inspiration and where the magical elements of his work come from, Victor laughed and commented that you needn’t look far for inspiration in daily Haiti.

Gary also talked about his childhood and how his mother read him Alexandre Dumas to the point he could recite them by the time he was first reading the works. He began to write at a very early age, and has watched the tides of censorship in Haiti’s literature and media subside. Now writing a recurring political commentary column for Le Nouvelliste en Haiti, Victor finds that we are free to say what we want in Haiti, but it is more important that the people try to listen.

Writing predominantly in Kreyol and French, Gary admits he writes for Haitian people. He says he takes pride in the fact that he became known in Haiti before crossing over to France and beyond. To me, part of Gary Victor’s success is a tribute to the inherent creativity I feel abounds in Haiti, a place known for oddity, tall tales, and living mythology.  The rest comes from his discerning eye for the thin filament that links our place with the larger narratives of people around the world. In fact, several of Gary Victor’s works have been in increasing demand across the world with works being translated into French, German and Spanish, but none have yet to be translated into English. Ahh, shucks.

Special thanks to the collaborative efforts of CUNY’s Segal Theater and Haitian Studies Association. This program was produced in collaboration with the M.A. program in the Study of the Americas at the City College of New York (CUNY)

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