Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Theatre: A Bicycle Country (3 reviews)

New Theatre opened its production of Nilo Cruz's A Bicycle Country at the Roxy Center for the Performing Arts on June 8, 2012.
Three characters whose lives seem to be moving nowhere set out to build a dream, even if that dream seems perilous. This stirring portrait of three Cuban exiles and their harrowing journey across the Caribbean Sea examines the universal themes of freedom and oppression, hope and survival.
Steven A. Chambers directed a cast that featured Evelyn Perez, Ricky J. Martinez, and Charles Sother.

Nathasha Waisfeld wrote an oddly truncated piece that seems to have been run through Google Translator for The Miami New Times:
New Theater is filled with an eager audience. Conversations in Spanish fill the room as men wearing guayaberas and moving to the rhythm of Guantanamera take their seats in anticipation of Nilo Cruz's celebrated play, A Bicycle Country. We know these are familiar words that will tell us a story that cannot be erased. A story some of us recognize from our own lives.
Evelyn Perez, as Inez, is beautiful in capturing her essence. She emits the tenacious beauty of a Cuban woman who sings and dances in times of hardship. She is the strength that convinces Julio to leave Cuba.
Julio, as played by Ricky J. Martinez is instantly heart warming. His physicality is striking as he fights to walk from one corner of the room to another.  Charles Sothers as Pepe, depicts a child's innocence; he brings laughter and purity in moments where they are much needed. 
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Passion, poetic language and vivid imagery infuse the work of Nilo Cruz, the Cuban-American playwright who brought honor to Miami and New Theatre in 2003 when he became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama...  Now the company is returning to Cruz’s world with A Bicycle Country, a 1999 play that had its world premiere at the now-defunct Florida Stage and a 2000 production in the Encore Room of the in-limbo Coconut Grove Playhouse.
Directed by Steven A. Chambers, New Theatre’s production, designed by Nicole Quintana (set), Eric J. Cantrell (lighting) and Ozzie Quintana (sound), is simple but evocative. The action takes place on a raised platform that serves first as Julio’s home, then as the raft that will carry the three to freedom or death.
Martinez, New Theatre’s artistic director, ends a six-year hiatus from acting with a strong performance as Julio, a damaged man whose spirit and sensuality are reawakened. Perez is the play’s life force as Ines, a woman who charges ahead no matter the obstacle. Sothers is solid as Pepe, the friend whose dangerous delusions make him see what is not there and want what he should not have.
In recent years, New Theatre has focused on new work, some of it inspired, some less so. Presenting an earlier play by a writer who has meant so much to the company and giving audiences a fresh chance to experience the language of an artist whose work resonates so strongly here is a lovely way to close out the season.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...every season or so, they deliver a moving, finely crafted gem of theater such as J.T. Rogers’ Madagascar or its fresh take on The Glass Menagerie. Add to that list of reasons to be proud its production of Nilo Cruz’s A Bicycle Country, a lyrical tragedy about three friends who escape Cuba on a raft.
These actors stumble making that verbiage credible coming out of their lips for the first few seconds of every one of these speeches. But under Steven A. Chambers’ direction, they quickly slip into Cruz’s unique rhythms and patois. At that point, you are drawn into a world of passions encouraged by hope and bridled by experience.
Martinez, the New Theatre’s artistic director, returns to his first acting role in six years. Time has robbed him of some hair and left him with a bit of a paunch (perfect attributes for the character), but it’s also deepened his acting skills considerably.
Perez... has found her perfect match in the difficult role of Inez, the character Cruz saddles with his most imagistic metaphors and ethereal prose. The final scenes in which her sanity is replaced by fatal fantasies are riveting and moving thanks to her complete commitment inside the madness of the moment.
Sothers is the least comfortable with Cruz’s ravings on the raft, but even he delivers an effectively heart-rending monologue as the hallucinations warp his mind. He also establishes a credibly ardent affection and camaraderie with his friends.
With a tenth of the budget that Florida Stage had when it gave the play its world premiere in 1999, New Theatre redeems itself with a stirring and harrowing paean to the power of dreams, the courage of dreamers and their cost.
New Theatre presents its production of A Bicycle Country at the Roxy Center for the Performing Arts through June 24, 2012.

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