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Review of “How Papa Noel Forgot Haiti”

Haïti Progrés

January 05 – 11, 2005
Vol. 22, No. 43

“HOW PAPA NOEL FORGOT HAITI”:
THE POLITICS OF CHRISTMAS

by Margaret Féquière

“How Papa Noel Forgot Haiti” is a lovely musical, written 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. 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 Noel. 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.

Article copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Progres.

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