Entertainment » Theatre

Cuba Libre

by Rebecca Block
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 2, 2015
Cuba Libre

"Cuba Libre" brought every inch of the intimate Winningstad Theatre alive with music, with dance, with laughter and with tears. By engaging in a unique development process to support playwrights, offer innovative theatre experiences and grow artistry, Artists Repertory Theatre brought the words of writer Carlos Lacámara, the music of Tiempo Libre and the choreography of Maija Garcia together in the hands of Director Dámaso Rodriguez.

The combination was pure magic, and the chemistry was sheer elegance. As the show opens in present day Miami Beach, the band's front man, Alonso, has just missed an important interview before what is meant to be one of their biggest shows. Facing the potential of losing it all, he receives a letter from his love back in Cuba, and so the journey begins as time flashes back to Cuba in the mid-1990's and forward again to the night Alonso committed to living fully in the present and never forgetting his past.

Audience members were captivated by the lively music of Tiempo Libre, entranced by the ensemble of dancers and moved by the story lines unfolding. But this was not just a combination of good music and dance, the music and the dance were just as much part of the storyline as the dialogue. Dance was often used as the sole mechanism to show action, the passage of time and change moving the audience through the story.

Given a glimpse into the hardships of life in Cuba during the "Special Period" and the resolve youth held to live and to dream, every person in the room could feel the pain and find the hope. Alonso and his friends each approached the challenges of life in Cuba differently, and together found love and friendship in each other.

Whether it was Alonso rigging his FM radio to catch a signal from the U.S. and dance to Michael Jackson, Rudy giving up his beloved Members-Only jacket so it could begin a series of trades in pursuit of a new horn for Hector or Lisandra dancing with the tourists so they would tip the band, this crew stuck together.

Upon being diagnosed with HIV and informed he would be sent to a containment camp, Brandon Conteras and Jose Luaces delivered a beautiful musical performance bringing the audience to tears as they said good-bye knowing they would never be together again.

Lasandra, played by Janey Dacal, transformed from a reserved, rule-follower to a vibrant dreamer and calculated risk-taker in her relationship with Alonso who just wanted to play his music. Olga, Alonso's mother, is the representative for their community and pledges her complete allegiance to the government.

Despite her commitment, her first son escaped to the US on a raft and her second left with his band years later. But in an effort to keep her second son around, she never told him that his older brother was alive and well in NYC. This was relieved in a heart-wrenching scene wherein Alonso finds his brother's letters next to his mother who has passed out from too much drink. The tears, the dialogue and need that was physically apparent from Olga not to lose her second son was painful and angering, inspiring and infuriating.

In modern-day Miami Beach, Alonso and his band were enjoying increased success, his brother had come down to see the show and while Lisandra's letter prompted his memories of his past, it also prompted him to make a choice between the past and future. His sense of feeling torn was one that so many in the room could appreciate, wanting to be back in the past despite the heartbreak, knowing he could never go back and recognizing that his place was in the present and bulding a future.

Together with Alonso, the audience traveled through Cuba in the times of strict rationing and indulgent tourism, of high-risk attempts to flee and painful decisions to stay, of choosing allegiances and reaping the associated benefits and paying the associated costs. And then the audience was returned to present day with the love and support remembered and the grief and the loss as stories to tell all to the magical timba tunes of Tiempo Libre and the enthralling and exhilarating movement of the dance ensemble.

As if that were not enough to make for an incredible evening of theatre, the cast invited the audience to dance with them on stage and closed the evening with an all-out dance party.

Artist Repertory Theatre's "Cuba Libre" runs through Nov. 15 at Portland'5 Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway Ave in Portland, Oregon. For information and tickets, call 503-241-1278 or visit https://www.artistsrep.org/onstage/2015-16-season/cuba-libre/

Jenny Block is a Houston based freelance writer and the author of several books, including "O Wow: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm" (Cleis Press, Augist 2015). Block's work appears frequently in and on a variety of publications, including HuffingtonPost.com, OutSmart Magazine, Dallas Voice, Swaay.com, Playboy Magazine, American Way Magazine, Brides Magazine, TheDailyMeal.com, and many others. She also speaks on Olivia Travel cruises and resort trips and has done a wide range of television and radio appearances from Nightline to Tyra Banks to Good Day LA.

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