rum %amp; coke
nytheatre.com review by Geeta Citygirl
August 15, 2006
What better way to enjoy FringeNYC, than experience what some believe is the #1 selling mixed drink in the USA—Cuba Libre—a rum & coke drink that cools you on a hot summer day. Like the popular drink, this rum & coke show offers up a sweet and tropical experience with just enough twists of lime. And unlike some Fringe shows I have seen, this one is chill enough for all audiences.
Writer/performer Carmen Peláez's refreshing solo multicharacter show aptly titled, rum & coke is her personal journey of discovery. Many first and second generation Americans (including myself) get interested in their roots—and often times, the stories have universal truths. What makes this show unique is how it takes you to Cuba and back in about 90 minutes. And after you have arrived back in your seat, you have much to reflect on afterwards.
Born in Miami, Peláez is the grand-niece of the revered painter, Amelia Peláez. Many of the original paintings by her grand-aunt are projected on a screen along with photos from her trip to Cuba adding the visual storytelling dimension. As the old adage goes, "a picture speaks a thousand words" and so they do. The Center for Architecture space is equally cool with its high ceiling giving it an airy feel. Cuban music sets the tone accompanied by a projected publicity photo of Peláez. And when she takes the stage, you are put at ease by her cheerful and enthusiastic personality.
We are introduced to Carmen as herself and from there, voyage from Miami to Havana. Her aunt, a santera, a young prostitute, a former Tropicana nightclub dancer-turned-bathroom attendant, and Peláez's great-aunt Ninita all serve to shed light on her identity by detailing their memories. It is a comedic play with politics and a salute to her ancestors added in. One of the most moving parts is seeing Ninita's photo and hearing her character remember a pre-Castro Cuba. That section seems to speak to the ways in which we are all people displaced from our ancestral homes.
Directed with stylishness by Carl Andress, Paláez shines along with the beautiful images and photos. The minimal set design by Dara Wishingrad allows space for transitioning between characters by the simplicity of moving one white wicker chair. NYU student Andi Cohen's lighting design is warm and creates the perfect setting for this journey to come alive. There are some parts of the play I would trim—a few sections tend to drag. And I would have loved to have seen some more dancing and singing (we get a taste of it in parts).
The word that best describes the production is "professional" (and with generous supporters it isn't surprising). From the press kit and the program to the show itself, this play has a really seasoned team behind it. Peláez's show has been making waves around the country for just under ten years. And in these times, when Castro and Cuba are once again making headlines, it is a timely piece for all to enjoy.