Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
May 10, 2007
I really wanted to like Marissa Chibas's new solo show, Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary. The author/performer is a talented and gifted actress I have long admired. The subject matter concerns a fascinating chapter of modern world history, the Cuban revolution of the 1950s. But, despite everything it has going for it, I never found my way into this confusing piece. While I don't think it's trying to be vague on purpose, I will say that I personally found it inscrutable and hard to follow.
Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary takes the audience on an impressionistic journey through Chibas's colorful family history. There's her father, Raul, "a comandante of the revolution" who, along with Fidel Castro, co-wrote the manifesto for the coming insurgency; her mother, Dalia, a former runner-up for Miss Cuba of 1959; and her uncle, Eddy, a beloved public figure who was the frontrunner for the Cuban presidency in 1951 before committing suicide live on the radio. As Eddie himself tells us from beyond the grave late in the play, "My suicide will create a political vacuum that will allow the dictator Batista to impose a successful military coup and the election of 1952 will never take place. It will be the end of democratic elections in Cuba."
Sounds pretty cool, huh? Alas, Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary never lives up to its potential. The nebulous world director Mira Kingsley creates—sand covers the stage floor, projections flood the back wall—never coheres into anything. It remains fluid, which I'm guessing is intentional but is also distracting. The play constantly changes time, location, and character: one minute we're watching Raul, then Dalia, then Eddy, then Chibas herself, and a bevy of other characters. In the script, these shifts are clearly delineated. But, on stage they are far less specific. Sometimes, we are aware of them, other times we are not. What is most frustrating is that the reasons for the shifts are unclear. Just as we're getting comfy with one character, another jarringly comes along.
All the while, the action is played against its aforementioned nebulous backdrop. Where is all of this supposed to be happening? In Chibas's mind? If so, then why does a beach-like setting serve as the primary location for destinations as varied as Havana, New York, and a Venezuelan cave? I never could tell.
Even more puzzling is what Chibas wants to say with this piece. We are given loads of information about her family, Cuban politics, and the like, but it never adds up to more than anecdotal lore. I'm certain Chibas intends to communicate more than that, but I was unable to discover exactly what.
This is disappointing, because Chibas's performance shows what a committed and courageous actress she is. She paints vivid pictures of her relatives, and the production's best moments come whenever she retells their crucial life events: Raul narrowly escaping assassination by Batista's police; her parents' first meeting; Eddy's suicide. These sections are invested with both strong physicality and emotional intensity by Chibas, and strike me as also being cathartic and purging for her.
But, not so much for the rest of us, unfortunately. At least, not for me. Much of the audience was more receptive than I was on the night I attended, so others are obviously in tune with something here that perhaps I am missing. There are parts of Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary where I was able to plug right in along with them, but they are few and far between.