In Cuba, Ice Cream and Tolerance in a Rainbow of Varieties

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Rachel Saltz (The New York Times) reviews “Strawberry & Chocolate,” which is playing at 777 Theater. As EFE reports, the play is an adaptation of the award-winning Cuban film Fresa y chocolate (directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, in turn based on a play and short story by Senel Paz) which has reached the Off Broadway theater, starring Dominican actor Roy Arias. The artist, who founded the International Theatre Studio in Times Square and a year ago, inaugurated 777 Theater, says “I really liked the theme of intolerance (in the script) and the main character is spectacular.” “Strawberry & Chocolate” continues through December 29 at 777 Theater, located at 777 Eighth Avenue (at 47th Street) in New York. Saltz writes:

Two revolutions clash in “Strawberry & Chocolate,” Senel Paz’s play set in Havana in the early 1980s: the Cuban one and a sexual one. “This country belongs to the revolutionaries,” says the bullying party-liner Miguel (Andhy Mendez), “not to the softies.” Diego (Roy Arias) is one of those “softies”; he listens to Maria Callas, eats strawberry ice cream (chocolate is the manly choice) and does nothing to hide his desire for men. On the contrary, “it’s perfectly normal,” he tells David (Frank Huerta), a true-blue believer in the revolution, whose sentimental education is the focus of Mr. Paz’s three-character play.

Better known than the play is the 1993 movie, directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (“Memories of Underdevelopment”) and Juan Carlos Tabío, from Mr. Paz’s screenplay. But before “Strawberry & Chocolate” was a movie, it was a play, from 1990, adapted by Mr. Paz from his short story.

The International Studio Theater’s wan but sweet production — the play’s English-language premiere, in a translation by Eugene Nuñez — delivers a message of tolerance that goes down easily enough, without feeling particularly urgent.

fresa_chocolateNYMost of the action takes place in Diego’s apartment, a cultured sanctuary from the hurly-burly of Cuban life and the arrows it slings at gay men. The set designer, Edward E. Haynes Jr., has given the apartment a decaying Havana grandeur and a dusty pallor.

[. . .] As a way to combat the monochrome of the revolution, Diego does everything in Technicolor. He overdoes, and Mr. Arias overdoes that overdoing, pushing the camp a little too far. Still, he’s the most alive thing onstage, and he injects some heart into the clichés Mr. Paz has too generously provided.

The play hinges on the against-the-odds friendship between Diego and David, who initially wants to turn in Diego as a counterrevolutionary. But David comes to know him and then sort of love him, though never sexually. (Oddly, the play ends up being sexually denying.)  As written, David is vague, a sensibility in training. He needs to be curious — about Diego and the cultural riches he offers, about life beyond revolutionary certainties.

Without that curiosity, which Mr. Huerta doesn’t convey, the friendship fails to convince. And so David never quite becomes Mr. Paz’s version of a new Cuban man: tolerant and dogma-free, a man who can order strawberry ice cream and savor it.

For full article in English, see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/theater/reviews/strawberry-chocolate-at-777-theater.html?_r=0

For full article in Spanish, see http://www.diariodecuba.com/cultura/1386621631_6273.html

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