Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Actors' Playhouse: Havana Bourgeois (3 reviews)

Actors' Playhouse premiered Carlos Lacámara's Havana Bourgeois on May 15, 2009.
Set in Cuba from 1958-1960, Havana Bourgeois explores the impact of Fidel Castro’s Revolution on the Cuban middle class. Havana Bourgeois is a universal drama that illuminates the choices we make as history closes in around us. This remarkable new play follows the associates of an advertising agency as Castro moved from savior of the poor to dictator forcing the mass exodus of the Cuban middle class.
David Arisco directed a cast that includes Dann Pino, Jossie Harris Thacker, James Puig, Oscar Cheda, Jenniger De Castroverde, Francisco Padure, David Perez Ribada, Joshua David robinson, and Carl Waisanen.

The Miami Herald has declined to review this production*.

Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Miami New Times:
Some of the most extreme audience reactions I've ever witnessed in a theater were during this show, when I watched a row full of Cuban exiles gasp and clutch their chests and cry.
David Arisco's directorial fingerprints are all over the first couple of scenes, in which the actors laugh and schmooze with all the outsized fakety-fakeness of the big-number musicals that compose Arisco's fave fare...
It gets better, though. Lots. Arisco obviously has a dark side, because as he guides Calvo's ad agency out of the halcyon days of Fulgencio Batista... Havana Bourgeois becomes a horror show.
It's worth noting that all of these people seemed perfectly normal and happy before Castro came to power. They were ordinary beings, unaccustomed to making mortal, or even ideological, decisions. And so it is jolting to see green-shirted thugs popping into existence where only mild-mannered office workers were before, and heroism where there was only neighborliness. It's a credit to the actors that these transitions — despite occurring with shocking speed — never feel forced. They appear as the sudden fulfillment of long-subsumed desire, which is probably what they are.
Mary Damiano reviewed for Miami Artzine:
Havana Bourgeois is burdened by the history it seeks to humanize. There’s no suspense because we already know what happened.
The production is oddly devoid of period details, save for a cool retro television. The ad agency set is very perky and modern, the costumes could be from just about any modern time period, which doesn’t help the interchangeable nature of the play. Also, the play is dwarfed by the Miracle Theatre’s vast main stage venue; the upstairs theatre would have added an intimacy not possible in the main theatre.
...a terrific performance by James Puig as a been there, seen that illustrator who refuses to submit to the new regime. Puig brings depth to a familiar character.
Danny Pino, the much-touted TV actor from the CBS show “Cold Case” looks the part of a young Cuban family man and turns in a competent performance, as does the rest of the cast.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the Sun-Sentinel:
Suffused with wit and pathos, Havana Bourgeois charts middle-class Cubans' disillusionment with the betrayed promise of the revolution. Your reaction to the drama at Actors' Playhouse is guaranteed to fall into one of two camps.

Cuban-Americans will feel validated on a gut-wrenching level as they watch surrogates for themselves or their parents struggling toward the decision to leave their families and homeland.

People without that connection may not be as profoundly moved, but they will emerge with a far better understanding and compassion for the Cuban exile mentality.
The play's tone nearly loses its balance several times, but never quite tumbles off the high wire thanks to director David Arisco....Castro is only referenced in water-cooler talk. Lacámara eases in the encroaching tragedy so gradually that you wonder whether you are still supposed to be laughing. There is even one knee slapper inexplicably injected just as the play reaches its heart-rending peak.

As civil liberties evaporate, Lacámara's dialogue edges closer to didactic debates. Only the heartfelt delivery of the actors takes the edge off what threatens to become dueling position papers.
The entire cast (including Oscar Cheda, Jossie Harris-Thacker, David Perez Ribada, Jennifer de Castroverde, Carl Waisanen and Francisco Padura) create vibrant human beings rather than stand-ins for social attitudes. But what puts the show over is Arisco's sure direction plus the vibrant performances of the devastatingly handsome Pino, the flamboyantly anarchic Puig and the deadly earnest Robinson.
Robinson deserves special praise as the true believer who never parrots dogma. His emerging revolutionary is convincingly sincere no matter his increasingly harsh pronouncements as the dream devolves into nightmare.
Havana Bourgeois plays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater through June 7th, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Examiner.com also has a review of Havana Bourgeois http://bit.ly/3z0Fp