‘HAVANA’ TOO AMBIGUOUS

From: The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH)
Date: September 27, 2002
Author: Stein, Jerry

Byline: Jerry Stein Post staff reporter

Playwright Eduardo Machado challenges Thomas Wolfe’s admonition that ‘you can’t go home again’ in his play ‘Havana Is Waiting.’ But the journey home for Machado’s character Federico is a painful one.

Machado’s autobiographical play, which opened Thursday night at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, is set in 1999 when Elian Gonzalez washed ashore in Miami. It is this year when Federico (Chaz Mena), after great indecisiveness, decides to return to Cuba with a friend Fred (Paolo Andino). He has been away 38 years.

Federico and his brother were among the 14,000 children who were spirited away from Cuba in a secret operation known as the Peter Pan flights between 1960 and 1962.

Once back in Cuba , Federico’s head is a jungle of emotions. There is guilt about leaving Cuba even though Federico as a nine-year-old didn’t have much to say about being put on a plane for the U.S.

Conversely, Federico also initially finds joy in the completeness he feels being back in his native country. He describes it as having ‘new pupils.’

Performed on set designer Riccardo Hernandez’s simple set that features a large cut-out map of Cuba on a blue stage floor, the play is ultimately too ambitious. Ron Martin must have felt like he had a theatrical tiger by the tail while directing this play.

‘Havana’ contains a plethora of themes and psychological complexities. But Martin mostly succeeds in maintaining clarity amid the crashing of all the ideas. But emotionally many scenes go over the top.

Not only does the play deal with Federico’s trauma, but there is a whole secondary theme of his relationship with Fred. Meanwhile, Machado finds time to delve into the love-resentment of Federico’s driver Ernesto (Antonio Edwards Suarez) and the whole world political climate.

If the multiplicity of concerns is at times difficult and emotionally exhausting to wrap the mind around, director Daniels’ actors certainly give dimension to their characters’ anxieties. Mena makes Federico and engaging, unpredictable man who takes Valium to control his warring emotions.

Andino’s portrayal of Fred and his journey into self registers both the fear and courage of such a psychological trip.

‘Havana Is Waiting’ makes you wait and wait for dramatic movements. But when they come, it is difficult not to respond to a most admirable investigation into one man’s conscience even though the play is too conscientious in revealing it.

HAVANA IS WAITING, Thursday night at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park, Mount Adams. Playdates: Tuesdays-Sundays through Oct. 20. Tickets: $37-$45.(513) 421-3888

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