Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!
nytheatre.com review by Carissa Cordes
June 26, 2010
Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You! is a one-man show written and performed by Jay Alvarez and directed by Theresa Gambacorta playing at StageLeft Studio.
The theatre at StageLeft Studio could very well be a converted living space, complete with the upstage wall of windows covered in drapes, art on the walls, and shelves with personal knickknacks. However, this seemed to enhance the intimate experience between the audience and Alvarez as he tells the story of how his family emigrated from Cuba by fishing boat when he was a small boy.
The title suggests a harrowing tale of extreme caution. Instead it is story filled with strength of character, laughter, identity, and hope. Indeed, the show opens with a very heightened moment, which did not invite me in immediately, but as the story unfolded I found myself truly enjoying the experience.
Alvarez and Gambacorta do a lovely job taking the very specific story of the family's flight from Cuba and weaving it with events and history. Castro came from the hills to give Cuba back to its people with democracy. Under Fidel Castro's rule Cuba became a place where neighbors spied on each other. People were executed without trial. Parents were afraid the government was going to take away their children. These parents sent 14,000 children to the U.S. to live with strangers under Operation Peter Pan. Alvarez's brothers were among those children. Cubans had been promised democracy and were given communism. I was able to get a complete picture of why this family gave up the life they had to jump into the unknown. Everything came full circle for me when Alvarez shared his decision to leave a dysfunctional relationship as an adult. At this time Alvarez was visiting his parents and his decision to cut himself free made him understand and more fully appreciate his parents' difficult decision to leave Cuba.
The show moves at a good pace with Alvarez taking on several characters; they are very physically and energetically distinct and dynamic. His portrayals of his parents are especially moving. Some striking moments include his mother suffering, waiting to hear from her two sons in the U.S., and his father telling the story of their escape. At two points in the play Alvarez expresses Cuba with dance, these moments are surprising and very enjoyable. Alvarez embraces his role as the storyteller; his performance is energetic, honest, and heartfelt.
Kelly Ericson Harnett's sound design enhances the story by adding authentic music, the sounds of the ocean, a trial. The lighting by Ellen Rosenberg is well used. The graphic design by Gabriel Alvarez has to be mentioned. It is a sepia-toned family in a boat on a blue sea. This could be a postcard, but is in fact Alvarez's family and friends "adrift on the boat somewhere between Cuba and Miami."
The show ends with hope towards a brighter yet unknown future in a new world. It makes me wonder what happened to that little boy and each of the characters I had become attached to.