A Cuban trio risks all in ‘A Bicycle Country’

At New Theatre, Pulitzer winner Nilo Cruz charts a dangerous journey to freedom.

Passion, poetic language and vivid imagery infuse the work of Nilo Cruz, the Cuban-American playwright who brought honor to Miami and New Theatre in 2003 when he became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama—as Christine Dolen writes in this review for The Miami Herald.

Then based in Coral Gables, performing in a space with just over 100 seats, New Theatre commissioned and staged the world premiere of Cruz’s prize-winning Anna in the Tropics. The Pulitzer transformed Cruz from an admired playwright to a famous and celebrated one, and it gave a small South Florida theater company justifiable bragging rights.

New Theatre, now performing at the Roxy Performing Arts Center near Florida International University’s main campus, has actually done three Cruz world premieres: Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams in 2001, Anna in the Tropics in 2002 and Beauty of the Father in 2004. Now the company is returning to Cruz’s world with A Bicycle Country, a 1999 play that had its world premiere at the now-defunct Florida Stage and a 2000 production in the Encore Room of the in-limbo Coconut Grove Playhouse.

A Bicycle Country follows a trio of Cubans as they endure the hardships of life in the post-Soviet era, specifically in 1993 during a time dubbed “ el período especial.” Julio (Ricky J. Martinez), disabled by a stroke, can’t move his right arm and leg, and he mostly languishes in a wheelchair, unable to work. His friend Pepe (Charlie Sothers) finds an unemployed nurse, Ines (Evelyn Perez), to become Julio’s caretaker and therapist. And over some months, she brings Julio’s body and heart back to life. But as day-to-day existence grows more desperate, Ines voices a dream: Why not brave the Florida Straits and risk everything for the chance at a better life?

Inspired by René Magritte’s 1928 surrealist painting The Lovers, A Bicycle Country illuminates the hope, courage and tragedy that accompanied so many balseros on their journey from Cuba to Florida.

Directed by Steven A. Chambers, New Theatre’s production, designed by Nicole Quintana (set), Eric J. Cantrell (lighting) and Ozzie Quintana (sound), is simple but evocative. The action takes place on a raised platform that serves first as Julio’s home, then as the raft that will carry the three to freedom or death. As they travel the treacherous waters, shimmering, undulating light on the filmy curtain surrounding the raft combines with the sound of waves to take us to the place evoked by Cruz’s words. Tiny dangling lights become stars. And a final, arresting image symbolizes sacrifice and, through it, sanctuary.

Martinez, New Theatre’s artistic director, ends a six-year hiatus from acting with a strong performance as Julio, a damaged man whose spirit and sensuality are reawakened. Perez is the play’s life force as Ines, a woman who charges ahead no matter the obstacle. Sothers is solid as Pepe, the friend whose dangerous delusions make him see what is not there and want what he should not have.

In recent years, New Theatre has focused on new work, some of it inspired, some less so. Presenting an earlier play by a writer who has meant so much to the company and giving audiences a fresh chance to experience the language of an artist whose work resonates so strongly here is a lovely way to close out the season.

For the original report go to http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/10/2842364/a-cuban-trio-risks-all-in-a-bicycle.html#storylink=cpy

If you go

What: ‘A Bicycle Country’ by Nilo Cruz

Where: New Theatre production at the Roxy Performing Arts Center, 1645 SW 107th Ave., Miami

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (no late show June 10), through June 24

Cost: $40 ($35 Thursday and Sunday evening, $15 student rush)

Info: 305-443-5909 or visit http://www.new-theatre.org

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