“El cuento de Rene,” actor and director Larry Villanueva’s adaptation of Cuban writer Rene Ariza’s short stories into a work of theater, is more than an homage. It’s a statement on oppression. Ariza was sentenced to eight years in prison for trying to send manuscripts abroad. He was banned from creating theater in Cuba and condemned as “counter-revolutionary.” Ariza served five years of his sentence and was released under general amnesty, after which he came to the U.S. on the Mariel Boatlift.
Revived by Arca Images 11 years after its debut, the play, directed by Villanueva, uses the absurd to reveal how hyper vigilance and an unquestioned sense of duty to a country or ideology can crush the human spirit and ultimately lead to madness.We spoke with Villanueva about the play and its continued relevance.
Describe “El cuento de Rene”? What’s it about?
Larry Villanueva: “El cuento de Rene” is the title given to a thematic play I put together by adapting seven stories written by Ariza. Each story is a world in its own but all of them have a common denominator: The surreal life of a citizen who lives under an oppressive socio-political regime. The dark humor detailed in Rene’s writing is a mere cover up to say what cannot be said openly. What Rene went through in his country in the 1970 can be compared to Orwell’s novel 1984. The element of Big Brother is present and translated in “El Cuento de Rene” as an almighty eye that is constant vigilance. The characters live an alternative reality in which the only escape is to dream on.
What inspired you to bring it to the stage?
Rene was an exceptional artist who considered himself to be a jester. He was often seen on the streets of Miami, improvising an act for children or telling one of his stories. In the ‘80s, I often saw him perform at friends’ gatherings. I never forgot his stories, in particular the one I perform in this show called “El Relato Sospechoso,” (“The Suspicious Man”).
Another of his eccentricities in those gatherings was that he would close his eyes or roll them up as if into a state of trance and, using two colored pencils, would move them on a piece of paper as if knitting. His head would doze to one side and to the other while moving the pencils on the paper. The result was always a painting of a Christ-like figure. I witnessed several of those in different many occasions. His writing is solid material for an actor and he was an inspiration when I was starting in the theater. I wanted to pay tribute to the artist and so I put together a show with his work.
You performed the opening monologue 11 years ago for Prometeo. Who directed that production?
I directed the same show at Miami Dade College when Teresa Maria Rojas had retired and left me at the head of the group, Prometeo, which she had founded along with [MDC president] Eduardo Padron in 1973. Even though I revise “El Relato Sospechoso” from time to time, I never thought I would do the entire show again. ARCA Images contacted me to revive the experience at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. I didn’t hesitate, despite all the load of work I have in my present job in the theater with my students.
What are the challenges to performing and directing this particular work?
All the monologues are challenging in syntax. It is clear that the absurd was an influence in the work of the writer. Learning all the logical incongruences is a tour de force for the actor. In this opportunity we are doing the stories with professional actors like Carlos Acosta-Milian, Ariel Texido, Andy Barbosa and of course Rosie Inguanzo in “Los Bravos.” Her memorable characterization of a man giving into his homophobic urge to hunt “faggots,” is still as deliciously performed as when she did it 11 years ago.
Is there anything in particular that makes the play relevant or engaging in 2017?
The play is as relevant and universal as when we did it in 2006. The world continues to be the same. Nothing much has changed in Cuba. The regime is as oppressive as in the five decades they have been in power.
“El cuento de Rene,” presented by Arca Images, runs March 9 through 12, Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m., at Blackbox On.Stage MDCA, 2901 West Flagler Street, Miami. Tickets $30 general admission, $25 seniors, students and groups (10+); in Spanish with simultaneous translation in English; for more information go to ticketmaster.com or miamidadecountyauditorium.org.
Promising a night of airiness and ardor, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami will bring “Ballet’s Pointe of Passion” to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, where the company joins an att..
Great friendships can nurture and prod an artist to make greater work. Think Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Such is also the case fo..
It’s a tall order to present a season as surprising as it is moving, as disturbing as it is delightful. Miami-Dade College’s Live Arts 2017-2018 season -- Ojala/Inshallah: Wishes from the Mu..
It was only a few decades ago that finding a professional, locally produced performance was an aerobic dance in itself. But after the Miami City Ballet (established 1985), the New World Schoo..
A 50th anniversary calls for gold in celebration. But Balanchine’s “Jewels”—a sublime marriage of music and choreography from 1967—brings Emeralds, Rubies,and Diamonds. Those pre..
When the Limon Dance Company returns to Miami-Dade this weekend, it brings with it the powerful vision of founder José Limon. He was a man deeply concerned about and connected to the humanity..
When Cardi B, with her trademark no-filter attitude, raps in her recent hit “Bodak Yellow” – Now I don’t got to dance/I make money move – she has something to sing about, with her smash hit N..
Despite a packed show schedule, including performing with the Frankfurt Opera in “Rinaldo,” Sarasota native, dancer and choreographer James McGinn had a chance to discuss the upcoming dance-opera ..
Anniversaries usually celebrate the success of a partnership with symbolic gifts of crystal, china, silver and gold. For the Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, the company celebrates 20 years of..
The songs are familiar; the love story is also familiar but made fresh in “On Your Feet!,” the musical biography that comes to Miami this week. The narrative of Emilio and Gloria Estefan meet..
Dance lovers in Miami know that for the past two decades the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) has made the city in September a magnet for the brightest stars in the world of bal..
Orlando Taquechel, dance critic for two decades at the El Nuevo Herald (and now a contributor to Artburst), will have a book signing and discussion of his new book, “La danza in Miami (1998-..
The name Flamenco conjures the machine-gun snap of heels, arms arched overhead, the flick of red fabric and laser-like glares from beneath the starched black brim of a Cordobes hat. At the ed..
Watching Neri Torres rehearse is a study in focus and concentration. She demonstrates each step with an ease developed from years of immersion in the study and performance of Afro-Cuban ..
Miami-based organization Delou Africa has been the ambassador of African dance and drumming in South Florida for the last 30 years. It started as a performing company, and has since expanded..
Miami Beach’s old city hall on a Thursday evening in June made a surreal set up for anyone familiar with tango’s broody scene -- a large cozy room full of cheerful, laughing, and smiling..
When Ballet Flamenco La Rosa takes to the stage this weekend, it will present a program based on traditions which were handed down through the ages. A program filled with the mysteries of fl..
With every great new love, the beginning is a crucible of extremes – will it endure for decades or permanently scar?The program for Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami’sJuly 8show, “Fiebre: A N..
With a heightened emphasis on “Noise” as an innovative musical genre, this sixth installment of the Miami Performance Festival International (M/P’17), running June 23 to 25, challenges South..
After 17 years as a principal dancer with the esteemed San Francisco Ballet, dancing every major role and style possible, Lorena Feijoo is retiring from that company to embark on a new journe..
Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is a storyteller. Her company Alma Dance Theater brings a particularly female inner world to the stage, through lush and sensual choreography. Nick’s..
Pools are ubiquitous in Miami. They dot the landscape like Jackson Pollock drip paintings. Residents swim or idle the hours away by or in the pool – and dancers of Momentum Dance Company also perf..
May’s “Mujeres” series of strong, multi-faceted, women-focused productions, commissioned for Miami Theater Center’s SandBox space, concludes with Spanish-born dancer-choreographer Carlota Pr..
One could say that Bistoury’s 305 & Havana International Improv Fest, which debuts this Saturday at Miami Theater Center, has been in the works for almost 20 years. In 1999 Cuban-born cho..
The process of creating “Shade,” choreographer Augusto Soledade’s latest full-length work, has been one of remembering and reconfiguring memory to discover new ways of talking about identity ..
Upcoming this week, Tigertail presents choreographer Myriam Gourfink and musician Kasper Toeplitz. Hailing from France, the two will be present for a 3-day residency at Subtropics’ South Beac..
From her home base at 6th Street Dance Studio in Little Havana, longtime Miami dance figure Brigid Baker has been slowly crafting a new performance piece. It’s not conceptual or political like con..
Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..
Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..
Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..
When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..
They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..
There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..
Yoli Mayor is a 22-year old Miami native who won over the judges of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” with her power voice (think Adele mixed with Etta James). This weekend, Miami audiences will h..
You might expect something a tad unusual from a jazz band comprised of Bulgarians and Cubans that’s led by the principal percussionist of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. And that’s what you’ll ..
Not everybody who begins a musical career at age three singing in his grandfather’s Pentecostal Church finds his way to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Soloman Howard did in two short decades...
Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..
Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..
Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..
Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..
El debut de Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) en noviembre del año pasado fué un acontecimiento artístico y un descubrimiento sumamente agradable. Una sola función en el Miami-Dade Cou..
El festival “Out in the Tropics”, patrocinado por Fundarte en conjunto con el Centro Cultural Español y el Miami Book Fair International, normalmente trae artistas del mundo LGBTQ e hispanoha..
La Gala anual de Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (CCBM) es un evento que esperan con ansiedad los aficionados al ballet en Miami y, sobre todo, los admiradores del estilo cubano. Desde su deb..
El 11 y 12 de mayo próximo tendrá lugar en el Miami -Dade County Auditorium el estreno en Estados Unidos de Scrutiny: The World Gone Astray(en español,Escrutinio: El mundo se ha ido a la deri..
Para el pianista y compositor cubano Omar Sosa la noción de una cultura global, sin fronteras, no es un concepto abstracto sino un tema personal. En su música, elementos de hip hop y rumba, ..