There are moments in this mesmerizing production of Celia and Fidel during which the entire audience holds its collective breath. We watch as a battle is being fought and a choice is being made. What choice will best move forward the cause of the Cuba’s socialist revolution? What choice will amount to capitulation to the seductions of capitalist imperialism. Which choice gives in least to the seductions of power in either case? Is Fidel a selfless servant of the revolution? Or is he an egomaniac who simply enjoys being in power in a patriarchy?
There are moments when the audience begins to breathe again. In the moments between those two breaths, we swing between terror, despair and hilarity: between the comfort of community that defines you and mania. This story that this play tells is a very human comedy.
Celia is Celia Sánchez, revered as “the mother of the Cuban revolution”: “the first woman of the revolution ever to fire a weapon.” She is Fidel’s confidante. Fidel is Fidel Castro, the leader and face of the Cuban revolution.
Celia is dead as the play begins. But she is very much with Fidel, who talks to her every day and before every major decision that he makes concerning how to better advance and secure Cuba’s independence and maintain THE REVOLUTION. Sometimes Consuelo, his assistant, sees and overhears his conversations with Celia. And wonders about his mental stability.
Celia and Fidel closes April 12, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
The crisis of the play are the events that led to the Mariel Boatlift in which thousands of Cubans left the island for the United States. Fidel has conversations with the deceased Celia as he decides whether to negotiate with Manolo Ruiz, President Carter’s envoy, for the asylum of those Cubans who want to leave. Many of the asylum seekers are from a generation that grew up after the revolution and/or benefited from the country’s literacy program: a program that gave them the tools to think for themselves. And many of them decided, having lived under a crippling US embargo, that they wanted more: more access to the capital and the individual success that the US offered. As Fidel says, being in such proximity to Miami (relatives), Washington, D.C. (center of political power for the world) and New York City (center for money power in the world), Cubans always feel the shadow of “the eagle” over their revolution.
The specter of the war in Angola weighs on Castro and the Cuban people. Among the complaints raised by the Cubans seeking asylum at the Peruvian embassy is the loss of Cuban lives and money in service of Angola. “Why?” they ask.
Marian Licha gives us a Celia who is a dependable and tough, honest, clear-thinking woman dedicated to putting in place the conditions that will facilitate Maslowian self-actualization for all people: starting with Cubans.
Andhy Mendez in a daring and bold performance as Fidel Castro, takes on the herculean and almost operatic task of showing us the many Fidels that existed. The Fidel who, through the lens of the USA, is a Spanish speaking clown. The Fidel who is an egotist who hungers for power. The Fidel who is an incisive analyst of the power dynamics among Russia, the USA and Cuba. The Fidel who understands that repurposing commerce to develop and support the community and the individuals within it, instead of enriching and glorifying the individual in isolation, is a revolution that has to be constantly renewed.
Heather Velaquez’s Consuelo is a young patriot, capable of navigating and manipulating patriarchal systems in order to get what she, and her country, needs to sustain the revolution.
Liam Torres as Manolo Ruiz is a Cuban who is a totally assimilated white American, who is very comfortable with patriarchy and capitalism, but who also carries nostalgia for the Cuba of his youth.
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I have been thirsty for stories about Fidel Castro and Cuba. And I must not have been the only one. The audience was hanging on every word.
Celia and Fidel by Eduardo Machado. Directed by Molly Smith. Cast Marian Licha, Andhy Mendez, Liam Torres, Heather Velazquez. Set Designer Riccardo Harnandez. Costume Designer Alejo Vietti. Ligting Designer Nicole Pearce. Original Music and Sound Design Roc Lee. Hair and Wig Designer Charles G. LaPointe. Fight and Intimacy Consultant Jenny Male. Dialect and Vocal Coach Lisa Nathans. Dramatug Jocelyn Clarke. Stage Manager Susan R. White. Assistant Stage Manager Allie Roy. Produced by Studio Theatre. Reviewed by Gregory Ford.