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The Big Heart of “One Small Girl” Makes a Difference in “Once on This Island Jr.”

“Once On this Island, Jr.” is a Caribbean retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” but with humans as characters and a bittersweet ending that is consistent with Hans Christian Anderson’s original story, according to Kevin Cornelius, Recreation Supervisor for the Santa Clara City Parks and Recreation Department. This energetic hour-long show, put on by the Roberta Jones Junior Theatre’s 64 cast members and 18 crew members, will run from July 23-25 at the Mission City Center for the Performing Arts.

During a dress rehearsal, the stage depicted a Haitian island, with the show baring glimpses of Haitian traditions. One of these demonstrated traditions was the transfer of stories from one generation to the next.

“Many cultures throughout the world use storytelling as a way to pass on their history to future generations as well as pass on wisdom of the previous generations,” said Jennifer Kohler, show Director. “One of the main ideas they’re passing on is to be true to yourself and true to your heart, no matter the surrounding circumstances. Ti Moune follows her heart to the end and Daniel succumbs to the pressures of his status and family obligations.”

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Spoiler alerts are ahead: In the story, Ti Moune made a pledge to Papa Ge, the demon of death, to give up her life so Daniel could live when he was on the brink of death after a car accident. In spite of Ti Moune’s sacrifice, her peasant upbringing and Daniel’s aristocratic status kept the two apart, making the restrictions between the mixing of social classes the unnamed villain in the story.

“In the story, the peasants are viewed as being unimportant to the higher class residents,” said Rylee Weon, 14, who plays Ti Moune. “Daniel seemed like he was in love with Ti Moune, and she was unaware that he was engaged to someone else. In the story, she sacrificed her life for him. But in the end he gets married, and he doesn’t think of her as anything else other than a peasant girl.”

“The story shows the extreme sides of the social scale,” said Rishi Sanganeria, 13, who plays Daniel, the son of a hotel owner. “On one side, there are the extremely poor villagers, and the other side, where people are rich. My character represents the wealthier side. There are only two sides on the Haitian island, no middle class.  Playing Daniel shows me the perspective of living in this Haitian island before the middle class was created.

“Daniel also has two sides — an intellectual side and an emotional side,” Sanganeria continued. “Without Ti Moune, he’s his regular side, where he is prim and proper and does what is expected of him and overall, he follows rules. When Ti Moune comes into the picture, she is the love he never really knew. When Daniel casts Ti Moune off, it shows that the two classes don’t mix at all, and when they do, they separate. He loves Ti Moune but he has to do what is right for him, which is to marry Andrea (Jane Jones). That is his other side winning, the side that follows rules.”

Visit rjjt.org for details about purchasing show tickets.

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