On Thursday, December 8th, Staff Writer Frankie DeGiorgio attended opening night of the Barnard Theatre Department’s second production, Fedra, Queen of Haiti, at the Minor Latham Playhouse.
Fedra, Queen of Haiti, written by J. Nicole Brooks, is an Afrofuturist adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus that re-imagines the Athenian house of Theseus as the ruling monarchs of modern-day Haiti, now a global superpower. In Brooks’ version of the tale, Fedra, queen of Haiti (Saiya Palmer, CC ‘26) laments the disappearance and presumed death of her husband Theseus (Alejandro Denis, CC ‘26), while fighting her forbidden desire for her son-in-law, Hippolytus (Surya Buddharaju, CC ‘23). Director Tatyana-Marie Carlo, the cast, and the design team all bring Brooks’ reimagining to life in this stunning production.
Upon entering the Minor Latham Playhouse, my fellow audience members and I were immediately met with the aesthetic spectacle the show would continue to deliver throughout its run. The set—designed by Rodrigo Escalante–was gorgeous, its soft white and orange tones and lush green plant accents contrasted with the sinister metal spikes that decorated the edges of the stage and the ceiling, a foreboding hint at the violent events of the play to come. The lighting, by designer Amara McNeil, was simple yet effective for most of the show, becoming more creative and complex at pivotal—and oftentimes otherworldly—moments. The costumes were beautiful beyond words. Costume designer Haydee Zelideth paid careful attention to color, style, and silhouette, dressing the cast in garments inspired by the various cultures present in the play that worked in neat cohesion with the other visual design choices to create a vibrant and electrifying color palette for the piece.
The music, designed by Broken Chord, was one of the best executed design elements of the show. At the top of the performance, the gentle Caribbean tunes transitioned into a modern, synth-heavy pop piece to signal not only the start of the show, but the musical treat we would be in for for the rest of its runtime. The electronic rhythms infused with references to Caribbean beats carried through the piece a sense of urgency—accenting the evolving tragic plot-line and grounding it in its Afrofuturist setting. It was a delightful inclusion, and had me bopping my head during every transition between scenes.
The script, though dramatic in tone, is sprinkled with moments of quick and witty humor, elevated by the cast’s comedic skills. Much hilarity comes from the juxtaposition between the classical story and the modern-day setting: while Fedra curses the goddess Afrodite (Jordan Danielle Baptiste, BC ‘25) for the curse she has laid on her, Enone (Esther Lee, CC ‘25) pulls out her vape and takes an exasperated puff. Aricia (Jamie-Ann Palmer, BC ‘23) references a “legend of old” in her drawing comparing Hippolytus’ entrapment of her to Jabba the Hutt’s of Princess Leia. But it is a testament to the strength of Brooks’ script that these references weave seamlessly into the fabric of the story, deftly combining the classical tale with modern elements and themes.
Under Carlo’s direction, the cast tackled these complicated characters with sharply-honed skill. Stand out performances were those of Saiya Palmer and her brilliant portrayal of the tortured queen Fedra. Buddharaju’s performance balanced Hippolytus’ childish love declarations with his authoritative political assertions, effectively portraying a man shouldered with responsibility far too young. Though her lines were limited, Baptiste’s performance as the goddess Afrodite is not to be overlooked; the moments she gracefully wandered onstage to rule over the scene with a careful eye and teasing smile were some of the most exciting in the show. Jamie-Ann Palmer’s hilariously refreshing performance as Aricia was a joy to watch, and left me wishing that her character could have more time onstage. The entire cast clearly had a deep understanding of their roles, and an impressive familiarity with a text that had them switching between languages and tackling complex tragic questions, and their performances successfully executed on Brooks’ work and Carlo’s vision.
Fedra, Queen of Haiti has been one of the most impressive productions I’ve had the pleasure of seeing at Columbia, and a must-see not only for those interested in such a clever and excellently directed adaptation of a classical myth, but for anyone excited about the aesthetic pleasure and magical energy a theater piece can deliver to an audience. Fedra will have three more performances in the Minor Latham Playhouse, on Friday, December 9th, at 8pm and on Saturday, December 10th, at 3pm and 8pm. Trust me, this is one you simply must see.
Set via Frankie DeGiorgio