"Cuban Spring" highlights generational divide

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By: by Bill Hirschaman - FloridaTheaterOnStage.com - 10/13/2014

The overall picture may seem a bit disjointed and fuzzy, but the world premiere of The Cuban Spring at New Theatre incisively depicts the complexities of Cuban-American families in modern Miami as their American-born generation conflicts with parents struggling with ghosts of their birthplace.

Even non-Hispanics can hear the deafening resonances in Miamian Vanessa Garcia’s insider look at the tidal push and pull between a generation forced to create a new life in America while their hearts remain 90 miles overseas, and their children for whom Cuba is only a cultural touchstone and the source of bedtime stories.

Garcia doesn’t break new ground for anyone living the dilemma, but her valuable insight is that neither generation’s feelings are as simple as outsiders might believe. She documents the inevitable clashes with a three-dimensional vibrance, a sense of assured authority and an ability to elicit empathy for those caught in the vise.

If the relationship of all the pieces doesn’t quite hang together in this early edition, those pieces provide fascinating glimpses into the specifics of the emotions.

While some characters initially seem archetypes, director Ricky J. Martinez and a cast of skilled actors inject that necessary third dimension from the very first scene.

The play is set in 2011, when the Arab Spring demonstrations toppling oppressive regimes has fired the imaginations of one Coral Gables family. The immigrant Miguel (Carlos Orizondo) secretly plots with his fiery younger brother Dio (Nick Duckart) to sail close to Cuban waters and set off fireworks to signal continuing solidarity with the beloved homeland. That plan gets short-circuited to the relief of his loving, if slightly imperious, wife Olga (Evelyn Perez).

The play’s fulcrum is their daughter Siomara (Tanya Bravo), a psychiatrist married to an African-American lawyer John (Ethan Henry). Now trying to decide whether to carry through a pregnancy, Siomara’s need to know who she is drives her to uncover some of her parents’ secrets.

Siomara asks her parents’ blessing to visit Cuba. But they are committed not to return until the Castros are gone, and Olga forbids their daughter to go.

The script has many virtues, especially its gentle humor and Garcia’s embrace of images that communicate the heartache of loss. But the script needs work. The connections of the disparate pieces are never tied tightly. One “shattering” revelation about the father left in Cuba is mentioned for about 15 seconds and never heard of again.

Martinez does a solid job of directing. He lets the play breathe, ending scenes with people silently reflecting as lovely guitar music hums. On the other hand, the audience takes a while to catch up with what’s happening many times.

The first-rate cast is led by Bravo, a former New Theatre mainstay. She hasn’t been seen locally much, so this is a welcome return home. From her first intense monologue, she is a force of nature. Siomara is totally American with a driving Type A personality that Bravo and Martinez are not afraid to make a touch off-putting.

The exact arc of The Cuban Spring, the motivations and a sense of a cohesive whole may be elusive, but the journey remains worth taking.