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Elena Maria Garcia and a galaxy of Latina women return in “¡FUÁCATA!”

Posted By Suzannah Young
August 9, 2021 at 6:18 AM

Elena María García is the star and coauthor of “¡FUÁCATA!,” a solo show in which she plays a variety of Latina characters.  Credit: Justin Namon.

In the revival of “¡FUÁCATA! or A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe,” running at Actors’ Playhouse Aug. 18-Sept. 12, audiences can expect nothing less than what the title implies.

The Cuban Spanish term fuácata – which means a back-handed slap – is key to understanding the central theme of the show.

“We as women think the only way we’re going to survive the universe is getting ready to give a back-handed slap, because that’s the only way people will actually listen to us” Elena María García says.

In the one-woman show, the talented writer, actress, producer and director plays over 20 characters – almost all of whom are women – in a comedic yet powerful exploration of a day in the life of a Cuban-American woman.

With a strong focus on female empowerment, the show begins as the main character Elena explains the importance of her morning coffee or café – one of life’s necessities in a Cuban household.  Without her café, Elena cannot be the “Super Latina” that her family relies on to make sure the day goes smoothly and everything doesn’t fall apart. 

“Usually, after that part I get applause from the audience because the average woman goes, ‘Hell, yeah! If I don’t get stuff done nothing happens!’” García says.

But Elena is not the only character who draws a strong reaction from diverse audiences.

Other standout characters such as Marisol, a girl who has been trafficked, and Sophie, a stereotypical Miami girl, communicate important themes about female struggles, family and love.

Elena María García is the star and coauthor of “¡FUÁCATA!,” a solo show in which she plays a variety of Latina characters.  Credit: Justin Namon.

“Even the character Marisol, who is smuggled into country and sells water on the street corner – she is still empowered by the fact that she has freedom and that she made it to the United States,” García says.

As Elena navigates the turbulence of everyday life in her search for café, she encounters a plethora of strikingly real female characters, all of whom have their unique stories and own ways of getting through the day.

“We don’t believe in spoon-feeding the audience; if you catch it, then you catch it,” García says. “But each woman comes up and says her piece and says something that kind of gives you her perspective on life.”

The script mixes lovable characters like Sophie with more serious ones such as Lulu, a Puerto Rican woman who highlights the discrimination and racism present within the Latinx community.  That combination of warmth, laughter and serious subjects is undoubtedly what has led to the show’s success and loyal following.

Stuart Meltzer; director and coauthor of “¡FUÁCATA!” Credit: Justin Namon.

Stuart Meltzer is co-writer of the show and artistic director at Zoetic Stage, which premiered the show in its home at Miami’s Arsht Center. The play premiered there in 2017, then returned in 2018. He’ll now stage it again at Actors’ Playhouse.

A longtime friend and professional colleague of García’s, Meltzer recognizes her powerful ability to portray larger-than-life characters while also expressing her seasoned comedic talent.

“I knew this show was an opportunity for us to figure out a way in which to encapsulate both that complex sort of comedy that is so much in [her] wheelhouse with those characters that she knows so innately,” Meltzer says.

For the two artists, the ability to understand each other’s creative energies in a way that allowed them both to laugh throughout the process was a way to bring a joyful authenticity to the Miami-based show.

While Meltzer also recognizes that the show features predominately female characters in its salute to the strength of Latin women, he believes the beauty of the play is that everyone can find it relatable.

“[This show] celebrates everyone in our community: the good, the bad, the ugly and the super funny,” Meltzer says. “There are different tales and different people that we meet [who] are sometimes not very nice or likeable – and that’s OK! It’s not our job to judge them. It’s our job to tell their truths.”

And it was that trifecta of comedy, struggle and honesty that inspired David Arisco, artistic director at Actors’ Playhouse, to select “¡FUÁCATA!” as the perfect show to resume live theater for adult audiences at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables.

David Arisco, the artistic director at Actors’ Playhouse, chose “¡FUÁCATA!” for the theater’s return to live performances for adult audiences. Credit: Alberto Romeu.

After having originally scheduled the show for the summer of 2020, Arisco saw the importance of picking a reopening show that would resonate with the predominately Hispanic population in Miami, particularly the heavily Cuban-American demographic in Coral Gables.

Despite the title and dominance of Latina characters, Arisco wants audiences to know that the show is in English, with some understandable Spanish or Spanglish thrown in.

“If [Elena] says something in Spanish, she always translates,” Arisco says. “And that’s why it has a subtitle [‘A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe’], because we’re trying to let people know that that it’s not in Spanish.”

Arisco says that although this production is a slightly unusual for him, as far as dealing with pandemic safety and inviting Meltzer and his production team into the Miracle, he’s ultimately very excited about it.

Although this is the theater’s first one-person Latinx show, Arisco believes that doing a Miami-based show at least once a year is a way to introduce diverse audiences to different kinds of talent and subjects.

“It’s important for people to know that there’s a venue…that is willing to…tell [stories about] their lives and their struggle and have their people on stage – and also to know that other people who don’t know that story can go to learn about it,” he says.

“Storytelling is at the crux of what we do – at the end of the day, it’s about how well you told the story. To be able to have people of all different nationalities and all different cultures sitting in the same theater and laughing at the same thing…that’s what Miami’s all about. That’s what ‘¡FUÁCATA!’ is.”

“¡FUÁCATA! or A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe” is at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, through Sept. 12; previews 8 p.m. Aug. 18-19, opens 8 p.m. Aug. 20; regular performances 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday; tickets cost $30 to $75 (10 percent off for seniors at weekday performances,  $15 student rush tickets); 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.

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Suzannah Young is a Barry University student participating in the Artburst Miami Journalism Mentorship program.

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