Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Color of Desire.

By Elizabeth Amore / Citizen Contributor

Award-winning Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz is back to amaze, enthrall and entertain Coral Gables. In 2001, he became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work Anna in the Tropics.

One of his new works, The Color of Desire, will be showing at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre as a world premiere from Oct. 6 – Nov. 7.

The play is set in the city of Havana in 1960 just when private businesses are being nationalized and Americans are slowly leaving the island. The relationship between the American Preston Thomas and a young Cuban actress Belén parallels the disintegrating relationship between Cuba and the United States.

Playwright Nilo Cruz remarks, “Preston represents a desperate America trying to hold on to its semi-colony and Belén embodies an island struggling with a vestigial past and an unsettling future.”

Recently, I had the chance to ask Cruz questions about the play and go more in depth about his work.

EA: How do the love affairs between the American businessman and Cuban actress parallel the lost love affair between the U.S. and Cuba?

NC: My inspiration for this piece had to do with the projection of desire. How we are creatures of habit and we are constantly projecting behavior or ways of being onto someone else. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree. Parents influence their children, lovers engage in the art of persuasion in order to re-experience a first kiss, or the initial sensation of surrendering to the mystery of love.

In my play, Preston Thomas, an American businessman, projects a lost love affair onto a young actress named Belén. Preston is searching for the reenactment of the love he experienced in the past, perhaps to learn from that relationship or to come to terms with its absence in his life and pronounce it dead. This is a man who is stuck in time and is willing to pay a high price for his nostalgia. He actually creates his own theatre of role-playing for the sole purpose of maintaining a self-created illusion on an island that is on the brink of change.

EA: Anyone from the original cast rejoining?

NC: Hannia Guillen, who was born in Cuba and used to live in Miami, will interpret the role of Belén; she did a reading of the play at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Public Theatre in New York. An early draft of the play was also read at Florida Stage and Barbara Sloan, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, read the part of Caroline, the role we have offered her for this production.

EA: Can you talk about your new work Hurricane premiering in Sarasota this fall?

NC: Hurricane is a brand new piece commissioned by the great dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and the Ringling International Festival at Asolo Theatre in Sarasota. In this new play a severe tropical storm displaces the soul of a man and the lives of his family. Forrest Hunter, a catholic missionary living in a Caribbean island, suffers an accident that leaves him injured not only physically but also mentally with a case of amnesia. His wife Ria and his adopted son Aparicio try to help him recover his memory so he can lead a normal life. But his past could be unreachable or unattainable, or maybe it is better if he has no recollection of who he was.

In this play I explore the inherent need in human beings for sacrifice.

Hurricane is a celebration of humility, generosity and kindness. It is an uplifting allegory that soars beyond the limits of existence to the immense power of human will and the rediscovery and reconstruction of life.

EA: It seems you have an affinity for Russian writers. If so, why?

NC: When a writer begins to write he is not only reflecting on his immediate environment and the world, he is also dialoguing with the great masters of the past who have engaged in the writing process. There’s a little bit of Homer in Dante. You can see how Fernando Pessoa, Machado de Assis and Franz Kafka influenced the great novelist Jose Saramago.

I’ve never been to Russia, but I have been there through the Russian literature I have read. I discovered Tolstoy when I was 18 years old and his writing bewitched me. Chekhov also became a sort of mentor through his characters and the fragile and delicate worlds he created.

All the literature we read becomes part of our collective consciousness. We remember moments from a novel and we recount them as if we had lived them in flesh and bone or as if they were part of a dream we had long ago. Chekhov is probably there in the longing of my characters, he might also be present in their unspoken silences; in the same way that our ancestors and God are also there in that child with the striped shirt who is crossing the street and holding a balloon.

EA: How will Actor's Playhouse lend to the magic on stage?

NC: Actor’s Playhouse is known for producing big musicals. My play is more of a chamber piece. It is contained. Each character moves the story forward. It is important for the actors and the director to find the music in the writing and how that music changes according to the dynamic of the scenes and the unspoken language -- that’s the challenge of this piece.

We have assembled a terrific cast, and I have met several times with David Arisco, who is directing the play. He has a great understanding of the script and I’m confident that he will do a fine job in making it come to life.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
280 Miracle Mile
Coral Gables
Phone: 305-444-9293
October 6, 2010 to November 7, 2010

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