Contigo Pan y Cebolla

Will the real La Habana please stand up?

Milagro's family comedy "Contigo Pan y Cebolla" takes us back (in Spanish) to Cuba on the cusp of revolution

 

By CHRISTA MORLETTI McINTYRE

Cuba is a magical and mysterious little island whose long sweet roots have nurtured a folk tradition that frames the art of the Southern continent as it inspires heated debate to the north. Before the man with the famous untidy beard and army-green patrol cap took to the Sierra Maestra mountains and became El Comandante Castro, La Habana – Havana – was full of the sounds of swinging band leaders like Beny Moré, sugar cane plantations dripping barrels full of rum, poker chips flooding velvet-lined tables, sophisticated and statuesque women dancing a pachanga for foreign guests. In the stacked and colorful homes lining the narrow streets of La Habana ran the lifeblood of the city, the everyday people, the families, the little heroes moving in and out of the daily the commerce of the 770-mile-long island.

Just a cozy little family scene in old Havana. Photo: Russell J Young

Just a cozy little family scene in old Havana. Photo: Russell J Young

Contigo Pan y Cebolla (a phrase akin to “through good times and bad”), the new show at Milagro Theatre, is a dear postcard from the past, written by Héctor Quintero Viera about his family life in the mid to late 1950s. Furthering the flavor of its time and place, the play is acted in Spanish, with easy-to-follow English supertitles, which have been cleverly disguised as picture frames.

Fefa (Amalia Alarcón Morris) has an over-pinned silver wig and shuffles onstage with the hesitation of the older woman of the house. Her heart is failing and she cannot be exposed to any intense situations, but her console radio is always dialed into her daily shows, the ancestral dramas of future television soap operas. Fefa was taken in by her nephew Anselmo’s family, the Prietos. Anselmo (Roberto Astorga) is a middle-aged, clean-headed man who, as sole support of the household, works in a textile factory owned by Polish political exiles. Veronika Nuñez is Lala, Anselmo’s wife. An exacting and demanding presence in the Prieto home, Lala’s always making plans for plans, pushing her children into a better future. While her clan is treading water, Lala is keeping their heads toward the stars. Lala became an iconic character of Cuban theater and represents the soul, the landing point of the home. Lalita (Marian Mendez) is the dutiful daughter, who, overburdened with ballet, piano and language classes, would rather spend her days carefree listening to American rock ‘n’ roll and dreaming about boys. Anselmito is a painter at university who has embraced the exciting and new formless expressionist art, though his mother would rather he used his canvas for a portrait of his sister or a depiction of the sagrado corazón of Jesus. Freila Merencio is Fermina, the lonely and oversexed Prieto neighbor, who comes snooping often as the local gossip. Lala is trying to keep up with the Joneses: she’s talked Anselmo into buying a telephone, and now wants a refrigerator. Anselmo only gets a raise every few years, and a refrigerator would cost big money.

Continues…