Performance Date: 11.02.09Teatro de la Luna, at Teatro Mella, Havana, Cuba
Turns out that this year’s festival coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, and many of the Cuban selections were remounts of successful productions from the past. All the better for me. Because the Cuban theater I saw in Havana was slammin’. (That’s right, I said slammin’. I’m allowed to use that word.) Case in point? Delirio Habanero, a Beckett-inspired fever dream of heartbreak and hope with the city of Havana as its object of obsession.
Three denizens of a broken and crumbling Havana – a legendary barman of a famed Havana nightclub, and the ghosts of Cuban musical giants Celia Cruz and Benny Moré – careen between yearning for the glorious Havana of old and dreaming of the possibility of a brand new future. When I watched the show, I was only slightly aware of the political statement it was making. Instead, I was captivated only by the larger-than-life performances which I found truly superb. Bold, precise, expressive physicality. Giant emotional size followed by moments of smooth restraint – like an expert driver screaming past at 200 mph then deftly braking to swing perfectly into a parallel parking spot. Superb comic timing. Deeply felt passion. This show made me wonder if an entirely Spanish language production could make it on Broadway, because that’s where the play belonged.
Each time I think back on this play, however, its political significance holds more and more of my interest. Especially because I’m still not sure I grasp exactly what that significance is. It’s sort of emblematic of my entire trip to Cuba. When the possibility of traveling to Cuba first presented itself to me, it didn’t immediately capture my heart. I was interested in going – in the adventure and the uniqueness of the opportunity – but Cuba wasn’t a country that held much fascination for me. And now that I’ve been there, the complete opposite is true. I now have an endless curiosity about this country – its history, its politics, its culture, its people. What is it to be Cuban today? To have the pride of the Revolution at your back and the hard reality of today at your feet? How do these conflicting narratives play out? I have a glimmer of an understanding now, but only that. And there must have been so many answers to these questions in Delirio Habanero, as that is the very friction the play explores. I wish I could see it again with two years of Spanish under my belt. Maybe next time, when it comes to Broadway.