The image above is not the official poster for our production, but I created it as an exercise in visualizing the theme of this play.
Tom Fulton as Emile, Joan Ellison as Nellie
Joan Ellison as Nellie
Vanuatu's weather is warm and humid, but winter temperatures do moderate some because of the prevailing southeasterly trade winds. As a general rule, the southern islands are cooler and drier than those of the north.
December through March is the cyclone season, with hot and rainy conditions throughout the islands.
Note that Vanuatu's seasons are just the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere, as Spring is ( Sept-Nov ), Summer is ( Dec-Feb ), Fall is ( Mar-May ) and Winter is ( Jun-Aug ).
Santo was also famous as a military base during World War II, when up to 100,000 soldiers were based in Luganville. Left behind were many buildings, a total of four airstrip and coral roads which are still in use today. (See History of New Hebrides and Santo)
Joan Ellison as Nellie
At the TRI-C Eastern Campus
Produced by The JCC,
As A Major Production in its 2005-06 Season,
in Association with Tri-C Eastern Theatre Arts
October 15 - November 5, 2005
When: October 15 - November 6, 2005
Directed by Fred Sternfeld
Cast and Production Notes
Naomi Hill as Ngana, Tom Fulton as Emile, Ko-Rhee Lovett as Jerome
Notes on South Pacific
The activities in the play take place in November, near Thanksgiving in 1942 on Espirito Santo, an island in the “New Hebrides”, north east of Australia – just north of New Caledonia . In 1942 the New Hebrides were a French Territory . It has since been given its independence and is now called Vanuatu . ("Vahn-oo-ah-too")
During World War II, James A Michener, then a lieutenant in the American Army, was stationed in Santo. Such was the effect of this place on him that here he wrote the legendary Tales of the South Pacific from which sprang the musical South Pacific. From Santo, Michener would gaze across the sea to a volcanic island, often with its summit shrouded in cloud and dream of "Bali Hai". On a clear day the sight of Bali Hai, or the island of AMBAE still beckons the imagination of the romantic soul.
Santo is Vanuatu's largest island, is fascinating in its diversity. In Luganville, the second biggest town in Vanuatu, there is a quiet pace of life.
Due to its size and its mountains, Santo has the greatest expanses of original rainforest and is home to colourful butterflies, tropical birds and beautiful orchids. Natural spots of great beauty include the stunning Champagne Beach (below), in the north and the deep, crystal clear Blue Hole whose cool spring water is a bright azure colour and is great for a refreshing dip.
Nellie's path to Santo
In the Michener book “Tales of the South Pacific” Nellie Forbush arrives on the island of Efate , which sits in the southern group of the New Hebrides.
It is there she meets her friend Dinah and has a rather ugly affair with Lieutenant Bill Harbison, who lives like a hero, but turns out to be a louse. After a torrid affair, she finds out that he is married. And the affair ends.
She is feeling used and unsettled when her friend Dinah arranges to have her sent north to a navy base on an island that Michener does not name, but in fact is Espiritu Santo (which serves as the inspiration for the events in the play.)
Emile de Becque and Nellie
It is on Espiritu Santo, the largest of the New Hebrides islands, that she meets Emile de Becque, who is a plantation owner there.
Emile “had long arms and wrists, and although he used his hands constantly in making conversation, they were relaxed and delicate in their movements. He had a gold tooth in the front of his smile, but it did not detract from his strong features."
Emile came to the island when he was 23 and has become a quiet force behind the politics there. When there is concern that the Japs may invade the New Hebrides , Emile becomes the defacto resistance leader. The invasion never comes, but the threat of it is forever hanging over their heads.
As in the play Emile and Nellie fall in love almost immediately. There are lovely descriptions of their early time together. Nellie, still a bit numb from her aborted relationship with Harbison is understandably concerned that history might repeat itself. After having kissed him for the first time and after his intimations that she should come live with him, she is pensive but feeling very much like she is in the arms of a man ‘worthy to be loved.'
”As she rose, standing beside him, she noticed that her nose came to his shoulder. Standing there, with it pressed against his moist shirt, she asked, “Are you married, Emile?”
“No.” he replied.
“I'm so glad,” she murmured, pressing her funny nose deep into his shoulder. He patted her on the head and led the way down the long path that wound among the coconuts.
In the book, Emile has been involved with four women before he meets Nellie and has had children with all of them. In fact, he has 8 children. His oldest daughter, Latouche, is 23 years old. She is the daughter of his first ‘love' who was Javanese. He has three other daughters by another Javanese woman. And he has four other daughters (the ones he introduces to Nellie), more beautiful than their sisters. The mothers of these girls are Polynesian and Tonkinese.
“They're my daughters,” De Becque said proudly, “I have four others. They live in Luana Pori with their married sister. I have their pictures here…. My family… I had to tell you first.”
Nellie is particularly disturbed at first by the Polynesian children who are “round of face and darker than their sisters. Their eyes were black as pools at night, their hair the same, long and straight even in pigtails.” Before she comes to her senses she is repulsed by the thought of the children and the intimate relationship between Emile and the Polynesian woman who bore them.
“But before here were other indisputable facts! Two of them! Emlie De Becque, not satisfied with Javanese and Tonkinese women, had also lived with a Polynesian. A nigger! To Nellie's tutored mind any person living or dead who was not white or yellow was a nigger. And beyond that no words could go! Her entire Arkansas upbringing made it impossible for her to deny the teachings of her youth. Emile De Becque had lived with the nigger. He had nigger children. If she married him, they would be her step-daughters.”
After leaving him and much soul searching, her epiphany and her realization of her own shallow bigotry comes to her as follows in a soul searching conversation with her friend, Dinah. The scene begins as they are looking at the picture of Emile's daughters Emile gave her.
“What lovely girls!” Dina said.
Nellie stopped laughing. She looked over Dinah's shoulder. They were lovely girls. Look at Latouche! Winsome and confident. Her three sisters, too. Calm, happy cocky young girls. They seemed to be afraid of nothing. They seemed like their father. ‘
“They are like De Becque!” Nellie said in a whisper.
”What did you say?” Dinah asked.
“Look, Dinah! Look at them! How much fun they seem to have!”
”You'd never have a bored moment around them,” Dinah replied sagaciously.
”And the four little girls! Dinah, they're sweet. And s well behaved. Oh damn it all!” Nurse Forbush walked up and down. She saw her letter to Charlie in the corner. “Damn it all!” she cried again, kicking at the letter.
“Very reasonable behavior!” Dinah laughed. “For a little heroine!”
”What's the use of bluffing, Dinah?” Nellie confessed. She ran over to the older nurse.
“Now I have made up my mind. I want to marry him .. so very much!” She started crying and sank her head on Dinah's shoulder. Dinah thereupon consoled her by crying too. In mutual happiness they blubbered for a while.
“I think your mind is made up the right way this time,” Dinah whispered.
“Quick!” Nellie cried. “See if you can get a jeep! We've got to get one right away! I've got to tell him tonight!” She hurried about the room getting her clothes together. “Oh, Dinah!” she chortled. “Think what it will be like! A big family in a big house! Eight daughters, and they're darlings. I don't care who he's lived with. I've got me a man! My mind's made up. Mom was right. Wait till the last minute!”
The Tonkinese are brought out to the plantations to work the coconuts and coffee. The come from Tonkin China , which is now Vietnam , which was a French possession as well. They come for three or five years. French government provides passage. Then they're indentured to the Plantation owners, who promise to feed them, clothe them, give them medical care. They are paid about 90 dollars a year. Because all of their living expenses are paid for, that $90.00 is almost all profit. Then after their indenture is up, they usually return to Tonkin , rich people in their country if they've saved their pay.
This economical system works very well until a couple hundred thousand American soldiers appear with more money than they can spend. And everyone wants a grass skirt. So a Tonkinese woman, if she works hard can make eight skirts a week. This is the enterprise Bloody Mary is managing – paying the girls as much in a month as they can earn in a year under the indentured servant agreement. It's raising havoc with the plantation owners. “So the plantation French went to the guv'mint and said,
‘See here. We got our rights. These Tonks is indentured to us. They got to work for us.' And strike me dead if they didn't pass a law that no Tonk could sell grass skirts ‘ceptin' only to plantation owners. And only plantation owners could sell them to Americans!"
The Navy has no luck trying to stop Bloody Mary from selling the skirts. They manage to get her off of Navy Property and onto Marine Corps property. Then they call the Marines and say “Get the Tonkinese woman known as Bloody Mary to hell off of your property and keep her off.”
The next morning First Lieutenant Joe Cable, USMCR, form Philadelphia , was given the job of riding herd on one Bloody Mary. That's where our play begins and why they want Bloody Mary to stop selling skirts.