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A CurtainUp Review
Havana Bourgeois
Is being a bitch a requirement of the revolution --- Alberto
It's a perk --- Margot. This exchange exemplifies how Castro's revolution has polarized the relationships of the once closely knit members of a Havana advertising agency's art department

Havana Bourgeois
James Martinez and Selena Nelson in Havana Bourgeois
(Photo: Colin D. Young)
Some weeks it feels as if I should be moving to Manhattan's Dry Dock neighborhood since I seem to be spending so much time at 59E59 with its constant rotation of intriguing theater pieces. Last night was my second visit this week to this complex's tiny Theater C where Reverie Productions is presenting the two finalists of its Next Generation Playwriting Contest in repertory. The plays have different casts and directors and have nothing in common except that each made the final cut out of 250 submissions and reflects historic events through the stories of a small group of people -- and that at just $19 for each show makes for an affordable and worth seeing double bill.

Though I found Ping Pong Diplomacy, the runner-up, fresher, funnier and ultimately more moving than the first prize winner, Havana Bourgeois is also entertaining and enlightening. Its focus is on a small group of employees in the art department of a Havana advertising agency caught up in the revolutionary fervor of Castro's overthrow of Battista. The time frame is 1958 to 1960 when Castro began to move from savior of the poor and downtrodden to dictator. (Is it really almost half a century since the revolution took a turn that led to a mass exodus of the Cuban middle class?)

Although the play is never less than interesting to watch, most of its characters seem written less to engender audience identification and empathy than to illustrate how the revolution impacted on different types of people: the ambitious but poor middle class men and women like wannabe art director Alberto (James Martinez) and Sandra (Ursula Cataan), the young opera singer he marries; Panchitoo (George Bass), an older gay man and Alberto's long time mentoro; Luis Soria (Jaime Sanchez), the greedy, upper middle class head of the agency who has already made plans to emigrate to Miami when he is deposed by the revolutionaries; Margot (Selena Wilson), the agency copywriter who becomes a revolutionary as much out of anger at feeling herself betrayed by both Alberto with whom she had a brief fling and Soria; Juan (Alexander Alioto), the opportunist who manages to survive and prosper no matter who's in charge; Manuel (Rashaad Ernesto Green), the uneducated country mouse in the big city who after initially thinking of the revolution as "just a bunch of rich white men fighting over money," becomes the most ardent revolutionary of all.

As Alberto, Sandra and Panchitoo are the only characters who are more real human beings than representative archetypes, so James Martinez, Ursula Cataan and Geoge Bass give the most convincing and sympathetic performances. As the nominal hero, Martinez captures the increasing despair of Alberto as he sees his dream of a comfortable and fulfilling life crumble in the face of eroding free speech, televised executions of dissenters and the Machiavellian goings among government executives. Bass's Panchito, while a tragic figure, actually manages to inject the play with considerable humor since his reaction to the revolution takes the form of cynical one liners (e.g.: When the head of the agency, is kicked out and goes off to America he and someone says what to you say now, he comes up with "I say we make some popcorn and watch another execution").

Zhanna Gurvich, who also designed Ping Pong Diplomacy, has created a smartly detailed and period authentic set. Except for the over-extended climactic interchange between the disillusioned Alberto and the fiery and still dedicated revolutionary Manuel, director Jocelyn Sawyer keeps events moving along so that the audience's interest never flags.

To read my review of Ping Pong Diplomacy go here.

Playwright: Carlos Lacámara
Directed by Jocelyn Sawyer
Cast: Alexander Alioto (Juan), George Ba
ss (Panchito), Ursula Cataan (Sandra), Gustavo Aonso Dealvare (Worker #1), Rashaad Ernesto Green (Manuel, Jonathan Maccia (Worker #2), James Martinez (Alberto), Selena Nelson (Margot), Thom Rivera (Felipe/Bill Reed, Voice of Fidel Castro), Jaime Sanchez (Luis Soria)
Set Design: Zhanna Gurvich
Costume Design: Ramona Ponce
Lighting Design: Colin D. Young
Sound Design: Paul Belger
Running time: 90 minutes, including one intermission
Reverie Productions' Winter Repertory Festival at 59 East 59th Street (212) 279-4200, in repertory with Ping Pong Diplomacy
From 1/08/06 to 2/05/06. <
Tickets: $19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 17th performance
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