There are many things to be said about my experience sitting and watching Becoming Cuba… but to start I want to say how amazing it was to go and see a world premiere show. As I got into my seat in the first row of the mezzanine, I glanced to the left to see the playwright and director sitting about 10 feet away from me. Ms. Lopez continued to glance over the balcony to see who was showing up to the Tuesday night showing of her brand new play Becoming Cuba at the Calderwood Pavilion. She had an excited look on her face along with the director. There’s something to say about watching the reaction of an audience as they take in your new work. Everyday has the opportunity to change and grow. Each line, scenic element, costume piece, light cue… it can all be changed in the beauty of a newly developing show.
The space of the Wimberley was just intimate enough for the show in my opinion. Being in the first row of the mezzanine I didn’t feel like I was missing anything that the people in the first row of the theatre were experiencing. The set was beautifully crafted to be the inside of a pharmacy in Havana in 1897. High-unfinished dark stained wood walls were covered in shelves that seemed over 15 feet tall lined with old-fashioned medicine bottles. The lower shelves seemed to contain medicinal concoctions and all the drawers that lined the counters contained usable props that interacted in all of the scenes. The lighting was natural in the realistic parts of the show, reflecting industrial lighting… and then during the “mystical” and “dream like” parts of the play the lighting turned cooler and more abstract.
I cannot ignore the colors and costumes that decorated the world. I would have loved to listen in on the conversations that Lopez had with her designers in what she envisioned her world to look like. Everything was so rich and eye catching. From the royal purples to the crisp whites to the tattered browns, each costume continued to compliment the world of the play and help the audience believe in the world.
Introducing the play with a mix of laughter and a serious setting of both the time and current situation seemed like a very appropriate way to bring the audience into the world of the characters. As the Boston Globe explains:
It begins with a Spanish conquistador who quotes “Macbeth,” saying, “Blood will have blood.” But the ghosts aren’t stock spectral characters: They are very much grounded in the present. The Spanish conqueror, for instance, describes English as a “language of grunts and farts” and mentions Elian Gonzalez and Speedy Gonzales in the same breath.
Lopez bring the audiences to a relatable atmosphere throughout her play. She deals with themes of love, loss, family bonds, foreign lands, justice and revolution… all while incorporating baseball, party jokes, and dancing. I never felt that I couldn’t understand what was going on in the show. We were faced with a time when the Cuban War of Independence was taking place… Adela, the owner of the pharmacy, has family deeply rooted in the rebels’ side of the rebellion. She is a woman that most people can relate with. She lost her husband, the love of her life, during the chaos of the war and took control of the pharmacy once he had died. The pharmacy is all she has to hold onto. Her and her brother and sister are on different sides of the conflict and they continue to battle for their beliefs as the world continues to battle around them.
One directing note that I absolutely loved was how the writer and director decided to bring the audience from Spanish to English. As I stated the show started with a Spanish conquistador talking about Macbeth’s “Blood will have blood”… he then continues to say that he, at that moment, is speaking Spanish and everyone in the audience understands Spanish. I, as an audience member, laughed it off and watched as the show began. Adela and her little sister hustle and bustle around the shop while patrons flow in and out placing their orders and receiving their goods. Speaking perfect English with no accent to be recognized. While the younger sister is speaking to an American patron from NYC she decides to say something to the affect of “wait, look I’ve been practicing!”… and then yells loudly “HELLO. HOW ARE JEWW DOUINGG?” “THIS IS GOOD? NO?” In a very thick and overly exaggerated Cuban accent. This is the first time I really realized that the whole play up until this point was in “Spanish” and this was the first time someone had spoken “English”. I was absolutely AMAZED. It made so much sense and was such a simple and clear way of presenting this realization to the audience… but it seemed miraculous.
Lopez continues to put little points of realization like this throughout the whole play. Intricately weaving themes of Spanish folklore, Cuban history, island treasures like the Royal palm, and classic Hispanic poetry. You can tell the time and precision that each line took. The amount of research and heart put into the show is overly evident. I loved seeing a piece of theatre that was deeply rooted in the writers past but that also wasn’t scared of being modern and daring.