Little Children Dream of God

Magical Realism on Stage


In Little Children Dream of God, playwright Jeff Augustin uses aspects of magical realism, a style that originated in literature and visual art. The framework of his play is apparently realistic, until elements of dream, magic, and supernatural phenomena are introduced.

Magical realism first appeared in the works of Latin American novelists like Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. Novelists of this style allow fantasy to coexist with realism, so that boundaries are erased and neither reality nor fantasy is subordinate to the other. In theatre, magical realist plays have largely been associated with writers from marginalized groups. The re-envisioning of a “reality” dominated by rationalism is a powerful artistic strategy to challenge the status quo and traditional, Western classifications. Augustin joins a growing number of American playwrights who, over the past two decades, have been exploring the potential of magical realism on stage.

Jose Rivera

Born in Puerto Rico but raised on Long Island, Rivera initially tried to portray the Latino-American experience through kitchen-sink naturalism, but his shift to magical realism lead to his breakout 1992 play, Marisol. In an apocalyptic version of the Bronx, a young woman meets her guardian angel, who warns Marisol that the angels are planning a revolution against a senile God. Rivera recalled the impetus for his shift from realism: “I was exploring my cultural heritage by writing in a new form, employing the myths and legends of my grandparents. That was a real liberation for me.”

Tony Kushner

With an angel crashing through the ceiling, diorama mannequins coming to life, and a hallucinated travel agent, magical events are foundational to Angels in America. Kushner recognized Márquez’s influence over many writers of his generation. His interest in magic on stage came from a desire to push theatre’s capacity beyond “that whole sort of illusion-reality paradigm.” Central to Kushner’s vision is an acknowledgement of the theatrical illusion, as stated in his stage direction for Angels: “[I]t’s OK if the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do.”


Fort Worth Opera's production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America

Sarah Ruhl

In The Clean House, Ruhl brings elements of fantasy to intrude on the realistic household setting; snow falls indoors, and apples fall from the sky into the living room. A magical lyricism informs Ruhl’s play Eurydice, and she most recently used elements of magical realism and puppetry to explore reincarnation in The Oldest Boy. Ruhl has articulated her interest in theatrical forms that move away from a Freudian-based “realism” on stage: “[I]f you excavate people’s subjectivity and how they view the world emotionally, you don’t get realism.”

A production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice at The Pheonix Theatre

Little Children Dream of God is playing at the Black Box Theatre through April 5. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Little Children Dream of God, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


Designer Statements: Little Children Dream of God



Little Children Dream of God in its scope, use of language, poetic narrative, and culturally specific perspective has given me so much to explore. My hope is that we’ve created a world that enriches and emboldens the mystery and poeticism of the play. Set primarily in Overtown—a neighborhood in Miami—as well as numerous other locations, the play calls for a transformative, flexible space that allows for moments of specificity and location set within a larger dreamscape. Our goal has been to create a design that bends to the audience’s imagination and supports the heightened theatricality and ephemeral quality that runs deeply through the narrative and language. We also hoped to find a gesture that was singular in its tonality—but also culturally specific to both Overtown, Miami and to the Haitian community that lives there. In researching this world, we found ourselves drawn to the murals of artist Purvis Young. We found his dynamic, expressionistic work to be whimsical and iconographic, dark and dangerous—yet playful—existing at a crossroads of folksy and urban. This is a modern, timely, American myth tapping deeply into the traditions of a specific community.

Set Design

GINA SCHERR, Lighting Design

The main consideration in lighting Little Children Dream of God is accounting for the many different locations and moods in the piece. As we transition from the ocean to an apartment etc., the light will help locate us within the frame of the flexible set. At the same time, the relationship between dreams and waking life will also need to be delineated with light, while allowing the worlds to bleed together in the liminal space. One major influence that came up during the design process involves the vibrant Haitian immigrant life in Miami. The scenic mural certainly helps illustrate that idea, and the light will play off of that with saturated colors and bold shapes. The darkness of the play, reflected in the scenic design, is another consideration. The light will need to reflect the haunting of the characters while serving the needs of the space. As we shift between vodou dreams and reality, the light will clarify where we are and where we’re going. It’s a marrying of the worlds of darkness and light, good and evil, and past and future.


When I first read Little Children Dream of God, I imagined the beautifully naturalistic world that Jeff (our playwright) has created, the world in which the play seems to live. This world, however, has a darker, more surreal and magical counterpart that resides in the language, characters, and conflicts of the piece. The two, the realism and the magic, live in a beautiful harmony. To wrap my head around this dichotomy, my first steps were what I consider seemingly obvious—I read the play, I made lists, I talked to Giovanna, our fearless director, to see what she envisioned for the visual language and world of the play. I asked Jeff why he wrote the play. That’s an important piece for me to get inside a new work. Then, armed with this knowledge, I spent several days at the Strand Bookstore, in the library, and on the web researching images. I researched vodou practices so I could begin to understand the darker parts of the piece. I immersed myself in images of Overtown, Miami, to get a sense of the realistic world in which these characters reside. After pouring over images, Giovanna and I decided the best approach to the costume design was to make the clothes as realistic as possible. The only way we can believe some of the things that the characters tell us is to visually believe the characters as honestly as they take themselves. Then, even though this particular show is set in the modern day and the clothes are not being custom made, I drew many sketches so Giovanna, Jeff, and our cast could get a true sense of each character’s visual arc. The next step resulted in a lot of “method shopping,” or trying to figure out where characters would actually shop. Would they go to WalMart or Saks? Once we get believable looks, the team then can address the magical (what does 11 months pregnant look like?). Hopefully all of this collaboration results in an audience completely believing each character and, for a play like this, having the costumes become part of the actors’ physicality so that they don’t even appear to be wearing a “costume.”




Little Children Dream of God is playing at the Black Box Theatre through April 5. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Little Children Dream of God, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground, Upstage

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Interview With Actress Carra Patterson


Carra Patterson

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod interviews actor Carra Patterson from Little Children Dream of God.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Where did you get your acting training?
Carra Patterson:
I was born in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My mother was only 16 when I was born, so she was a teenage parent, but she took my brother and me to college with her, so I spent many of my early years growing up on a college campus.  Education was always very important in our household. We eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where I attended college. I got my bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University and my MFA from NYU’s graduate acting department.


TS: I’m curious why you chose to do the role of Sula in Little Children Dream of God. What was it that spoke to you?
It’s such a beautiful role. Jeff Augustin, the playwright, did a great job of just writing a juicy, rich role. And as a young black actress, you don’t find that many roles of this caliber to be honest. It’s such a gift. At first glance, Sula seems like this beautiful, delicate, almost virginal character, but she’s a fighter. And there is nothing pretty about her past or her journey. Sula is not a victim who’s helpless and depressed. She’s a fighter who is literally clawing her way out of her painful past. I love that complexity, and that’s what I’m looking forward to exploring during rehearsals.


TS: I just saw a TV interview with Meryl Streep, who said she reads a lot of scripts and she knows it’s the right one because her heart starts beating faster. Did something like that happen to you when you were reading Little Children Dream of God?
Oh, definitely. There is this final moment in the play – and I don’t want to reveal too much – where Sula finally confronts her past. I remember the first time I read it aloud, it was so visceral, I could literally feel the drums and the rhythm of the language, almost like a trance. There are so many moments in this play where you don’t know if it’s a dream or a nightmare. I look forward to bringing those moments to life and seeing how they translate from the page to the stage.


TS: What type of research do you have to do to start on this role?
Lots! I am not Haitian, so I am pretty much reading everything I can get my hands on. Although the play is set in Miami, it’s very much a story about Haiti; its culture is very important to the world of this play. There’s no way I can truly understand Sula’s journey without an exploration of Haitian art, spirituality, and traditions.


TS: I know you haven’t started rehearsal yet, but what do you think the play is about?
In a way, the title says it all. Children come into this world full of innocence and possibility, and somewhere along the way, it gets lost. I think every character in the play is trying to recover a sense of hope. I definitely think that’s what Sula is wrestling with throughout the story. Every parent wants his or her child to have a better life, and Sula wants her son to hold on to the innocence that she’s lost.


TS: What style do you think the play is written in?
What I love about Jeff’s writing is that on one hand it has a magical, dreamlike quality and then in the next moment, it switches to a tone that’s edgy and straightforward. I love how the writing vacillates between those two worlds at any given moment.


TS: How do you see the relationship between Sula and Carolyn?
I love Carolyn’s character. She seems to be a symbol of motherhood. However, Carolyn is not the typical mother…she has 11 children, who we never meet in the play. But she also seems to nurture many of the characters in the play in one way or another. I think Sula admires this quality in Carolyn, and sometimes that terrifies her. Between motherhood and her relationship to God, Carolyn represents almost everything Sula is running away from.


Deirdre O'Connell (Carolyn) and Carra Patterson (Sula). Photo by Walter McBride.

TS: What about Sula and Joel? That’s a very complex relationship.
I think Sula and Joel are teachers for one another. While they both are trying to recover the ability to dream, Sula also forces Joel to embrace his Haitian roots -- the language and the traditions he’s lost touch with. Joel is trying to encourage Sula to create a new history for herself and her son. Sula and Joel push each other and force one another to face their fears.


TS: How would you describe Sula’s relationship to Haiti?
Well, although Sula is running from the pain of mistakes she made in Haiti, she loves her home. She forces Joel and Madison to reflect on their own loss of connection with Haiti. Even though she’s running from the life she had, she carries the beauty of the culture with her, and that’s where the conflict lies with Sula.  In order for her to move forward and create a better future for her son, she still has to confront the mistakes and the pain of her past…something we all have to do at some point.


TS: How do you like to collaborate with the director?
I love when there’s a true collaboration process between the actors and the director to tell the story. There are all kinds of directors, and I have definitely had experiences where it doesn’t feel collaborative at all. Sometimes directors know exactly what they want and it’s your job to just do that. Luckily I know the way Gio works, and I am so excited to get started on this journey.


TS: Have you worked with Giovanna Sardelli, the director, before?
I have. She taught me at NYU during my first year, and it was great. Every time we’ve seen each other since, we always say, “I can’t wait to work with you!” And now it’s happened. I think a true collaborative process is about trust – the actors trusting the vision of the director, the director trusting the ability, interpretation, and input of the actors. I absolutely believe that I’ll have that with Gio. And because she also started as an actor first, I know she knows how to communicate with actors in a way that enhances the collaborative process.


TS: You mentioned doing a table read of this play. Do you have a history with the project?
About a year ago, I had the opportunity to do a reading of this play. It was  last minute, so I had to dive in right away. By the end, I was blown away by the story and by the journey that Sula takes. That’s when I fell in love with this play. And I was looking forward to the opportunity to audition for it all year.

Little Children Dream of God begins previews at the Black Box Theatre January 24. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Little Children Dream of God, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground, Uncategorized, Upstage

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