By: Kathryn Ryan On Thursday Oct 16, 2014
"What does it mean to be a Cuban American? This is only one of the questions that playwright Vanessa Garcia posits in her play, "The Cuban Spring." On another level the play is about familial ties to country as well as loved ones.
The family patriarch, Miguel (Carlos Orizondo) likens Cuba to a magnet pulling him inexorably toward the island. In his desire to bring joy to the people in his former homeland, he plans to motor his boat to the edge of international waters and set off a fireworks display.
Dissuaded by his wife, Olga, (Evelyn Perez) who shares a terrible secret with him, the evidence of which is locked away in a wooden box on their mantle, he changes his mind. Their daughter, Siomara, (Tanya Bravo) a psychologist, wrestles with this secrecy, finally smashing open this symbol of her parents shared shame.
Simultaneously, Siomara's husband, John, (Ethan Henry), an attorney, discovers her secret at the bottom of a bathroom wastebasket; she is pregnant. His visceral disappointment at being kept in the dark is clearly manifested.
For her part Siomara is ambivalent about the prospect of motherhood as she juggles with multiple identities as: a working professional, daughter, wife and especially a first generation Cuban.
The resolution of these conflicts is the meat of the drama. However, it is the love of and for family that resonates in the story. In his longing to return to his roots Orizondo's Miguel is the soul of the play. Orizondo's performance is sincere and natural. He captivates with his simplicity.
Bravo's Siomara is its mind, the rational self always trying to assess human relations through the veil of psychological questionnaires. She makes the others imagine and describe a cube, a type of plant, a ladder and a horse, which represent respectively one's self, and attitudes toward job, family and spouse.
Perez's Olga as the play's heart that is able to imbue harsh lines with both warmth and empathy. When her husband observes, "love is a monster" she replies, "Miguel, don't go to the dark side." During a later confrontation her daughter defiantly asserts, "I am going to Cuba." She counters just as emphatically, "No, you're not!" Her need to protect her daughter who has enabled her to regain her humanity is clear.
As husband and son-in-law Henry's John delivers perhaps the most compelling line about the comfort within a family. In a recollection about his own estranged family he confesses that he misses "the way family touch each other when they talk." His need to establish his own family is palpable.
As the uncle, brother and brother-in-law and the latest arrival in Miami, clear by his heavier accent, Nick Duckert's Dionysus reminds them that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.
Perez, Henry and Duckert give the play its gentle humor. Perez's Olga observes that her daughter is on the "ninth cloud" instead of cloud nine. Duckert's rhythmic accent on top of a fast delivery also adds to the play's comedy. Henry's reaction to his new found Cuban family contrasts with his upbringing as an African-American from Mississippi also makes for some delightful moments. He reminds them, for instance, that black is black no matter where the person is from Cuba, Hawaii or the deep South.
Director Ricky Martinez understands that a change in pace is necessary to keep the story moving. He directs his actors to deliver lines at times tersely and at other moments poetically. Bravo's face positively glows in her more poetic moments alone onstage. Martinez's actors deliver these divergent aspects with a delicacy and a deftness that is noteworthy.
The set by Rob Eastman-Mullins is both simple and inspiring. The audience flanks each side of the playing space. One side of the playing area represents the parents' living room with rocking chairs, saltillo tiles, both plain and decorated, a front door and a door to the rest of the house while the other side of the stage has an imposing arch like structure with two heavy doors overlooking the ocean. At one point rain pours down, drenching Bravo, and making for a surprising and pleasing special effect.
The music and sound also add to the mood. Soft Spanish guitar blends each scene effortlessly, uniting one to the other. The sound of a music box also reinforces the sequence when Siomara dreams of her grandfather. This scene in which Andrew Ruiz on stilts, dressed in a clown costume, represents her grandfather in Cuba borders on magical realism.
Marcia Kreitman's costumes are appropriate for each of the characters and include a grey business suit, colorful tops and metallic sandals.
For anyone who has returned to the place of his or her origin and felt a familiar kinship and the tug of a lost past, "Cuban Spring" will resonate. The 'spring' in the title is the rebirth represented alternately by the family's emigration to Miami, Siomara's pregnancy and the play's resolution, her plan to visit Havana.
"Cuban Spring" runs through Nov. 2 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay. For information or tickets, call 786-573-5300 or visit www.new-theatre.org or www.smdcac.org.
About Vanessa Garcia
Vanessa Garcia is a writer and mulit-media artist