A musical in 2 acts and a prelude freely adapted from the legend of Medea. Music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa
Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, NYC - Opened 2nd December 1999: closed 9th January, 2000 (44 perfs)
Chicago, 1899. A women's prison.
Marie Christine L'Adrese enters a cell filled with inmates, some mad, some violent. Three of the Prisoners question Marie Christine. These women journey with Marie Christine as she recounts her story, the events coming to life, as if conjured by her memory. First, she recalls her beloved mother, who taught her about her African heritage, the power of voudon magic and her place in society.
As Marie Christine describes her first meeting with Dante Keyes, who would become the father of her children, she invokes the memory of Blue Rose Park, on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. Dante is a sea captain whose ship is stranded in Biloxi. He has made his way to New Orleans to settle a score with his ship's owner. Their attraction to each other is immediate, as the Prisoners note. Marie Christine tells Dante about her parentage and we meet her brothers: Jean, a serious Advocate-of-Law engaged to the very proper Beatrice; and Paris, a bon vivant. They remind her of the restrictive rules of Creole society in New Orleans. On her own, Marie Christine teaches her young maid and confidante Lisette how to survive in a world ruled by men.
Dante, a young ambitious man, recounts how he survived years at sea triumphing over great perils—which he attributes to his natural charm and charisma. Marie Christine offers to help Dante settle his business in New Orleans. And she reveals her secret life as a practitioner of voudon, helping people of all race and classes in matters of the heart.
Dante extols the virtues of Chicago where he grew up and where his patron Charles Gates will help him run for political office someday. Marie glimpses a darker, complex side of the man when he sings of the loneliness of the ocean and is powerlessly swept away by him. They make love as the shadows fall over the park. As her maid Lisette searches for her mistress, Marie realises that Dante is her way out of her confining life; yet the voice of her conscience—her mother—questions whether she should allow her passions to rule her life. Dante reveals his vulnerability to her and they realise they have fatten in love. Marie invites him to stay with her in her family's home in New Orleans.
In the L'Adrese household in New Orleans, the servants comment on their mistress' forbidden affair with a white man. They pass along information in coded language so as not be caught gossiping. Marie Christine's affair has become a scandal. Jean and Paris confront her and demand she end this relationship—their family's reputation is at stake.
Marie Christine discovers she is pregnant with Dante's child. Her worst fears of abandonment are almost realised when she discovers Dante flirting with Lisette, who inadvertently tries to tell him of Marie's pregnancy. Dante prepares to leave, as his business in New Orleans is settled. Marie begs him to take her with him, telling him she will steal her mother's gold and jewellery, which are rightfully hers, to finance their flight. But even though Dante is unaware of Marie's condition, he promises to take her with him to Chicago. There, he plans to fulfil his own destiny with her. Dante leaves, promising to return with his ship in three days.
Alone in her bedroom, Lisette prepares for bed. Marie Christine confronts her and accuses her of betraying her secrets. Inducing a spell of paralyzing fear in the young girl, Marie commits the first of many crimes for her love. The Prisoners, horrified and awed, comment on Marie's need to protect her relationship with Dante and Marie declares her passion.
At Jean and Beatrice's engagement party, Paris entertains with an art song, while Jean and Beatrice accept best wishes from their guests. Dante appears and Marie goes to him with her mother's safebox. Jean confronts Dante in a rage and a violent fight ensues. Paris comes to Jean's defence and the brothers beat Dante mercilessly. Marie Christine grabs the knife Paris has dropped during the fight and stabs her brother to death. Marie Christine and Dante flee to the docks, where they escape from New Orleans on Dante's ship. Marie wordlessly reveals to Dante she is carrying his child as the act ends.
Marie Christine and Dante have spent five years sailing up and down the Eastern Seaboard after their escape from New Orleans. They have two beautiful sons, five and three-years-old. They finally settle in Chicago where Dante puts Marie and the children in a small house by the river white he pursues his political ambitions.
In a saloon in Chicago's First Ward, Magdalena, the saloon's proprietor, entertains the bar's patrons who include Dante and the powerful political boss, Charles Gates. Her performance is interrupted by a rally for Dante who is running for City Alderman under Gates' watchful eye.
Marie Christine confronts Dante. He has abandoned her to facilitate his political aspirations and is now engaged to marry Gates' daughter Helena. He coldly asks her to leave Chicago. As she furiously reminds him of the years they spent together, the scene dissolves into a memory of Dante, Marie and their children in a playful, happy moment. Dante insists she turn the boys over to him. Marie accuses him of complicity in crimes she committed for him, including murder in New York City. He admits to nothing. Marie Christine explodes and threatens him in wounded rage.
Magdalena pays a visit to Marie Christine. She warns Marie that Charles Gates will do anything to get Dante into political office; her life is in danger. She entreats her to give the children over to Dante for the time being and leave town; Magdalena will provide refuge and promises to get her children back for her. In exchange, Marie will help Magdalena and her husband realise their wish for a child of their own.
Marie is tormented by her obsession with Dante; she insinuates herself into his psyche and as Dante tries to make love to the beautiful Helena, Marie unleashes her power in a violent, heated pas-de-trois.
Late at night, Charles Gates' henchmen, McMahon and Leary, appear at Marie Christine's door with a message from Gates. Gates then appears and confronts Marie, accusing her of standing in Dante's way. He says he will accept Dante's children into his household. Marie fears he will abuse them and refuses. Enraged at her obstinacy Gates and his henchmen then viciously humiliate her.
Marie Christine is broken. Powerless to protect her babies and discarded by Dante, she is haunted by the ghost of her brother Paris, and the memories of her family. The Prisoners encourage her to continue with her story.
On the day he is married to Gates' daughter, Dante is summoned by Marie who tells him that she has decided, for the children's sake, to turn them over to him. She could never hurt him, she says. She gently asks that the boys be allowed to present a gift to Helena after which, Magdalena is to bring them back for a final goodbye. Dante assents and leaves with the boys. Marie Christine then turns on the Prisoners in a violent outburst. They will bear witness to the end of her story.
Magdalena returns from the wedding with the children. She repeats her promise to provide Marie with refuge outside the city and to get her children back for her shortly. Marie Christine gives Magdalena a gift that will help her bear a child. Before surrendering the children to Dante, Marie says she would like to bathe and prepare them. As Magdalena looks on, Marie sings them a lullaby and holds her babies close as she leads them off .
The quiet moment is shattered by Dante entering in hysteria—the gift Marie has given Helen, was poisoned, killing Helena on her wedding night. Dante demands that Marie Christine turn the boys over to him. What he sees in her eyes is no less horrifying than what he sees in the next room. She has murdered their children. He collapses, destroyed.
"Innocence dies by your hand, for his arrogance, for your awful love. But is love too small a pain for a woman? Cover your eyes and ask the sun..." Marie Christine's mother is heard, echoed by the Prisoners, finally by all the women. Dawn arrives. Marie Christine walks towards the cold, rising light, into the burning sun.
(in order of stage appearance)
Keyboards & Synthesizer: Woodwinds:
Acoustic & Electric Bass:
Scenes and Settings
Prelude: A Prison
Act 1: 1894.
- A park on Lake Pontchartrain outside New Orleans
- Marie Christine's home on Mandolin Street in New Orleans and its interiors as erll as its garconniere and ballroom
- A pier
Act 2: 1899
- A Saloon in the First Ward, Chicago
- An Alleyway
- A small house and its interior
- Interior of a Church