Cubalandia and Taylor Mac’s Century
In the contemporary grant speak of non-profit arts organizations, the term “interactive” is bandied about almost as much as “multi-cultural.” As overused as the descriptor may be, those who caught the opening night of FUNDarte’s Out in the Tropic’s Festival got schooled on the real deal. Although wildly divergent, the evening’s two acts, Cubalandia by Cuban troupe El Ciervo Encantado and New York-based Taylor Mac’s The Twentieth Century Show are interactive in purpose, design, and delivery. At three hours with intermission, the pairing of these shows made for a long evening, but the solo shows were often hilarious and always provocative. El Ciervo Encantado (The Enchanted Deer) makes its U.S. debut with Cubalandia, directed by Nelda Castillo and performed by Mariela Brito. The women co-created the piece to expose the hypocrisy of Cuba’s two-tiered economy, which consists of two currencies: the peso in which regular Cubans earn their salaries and the Cuban convertible peso (called the CUC), which is the necessary currency for restaurants, travel, hotels, and other luxuries. Brito, as the character Yara La China, begins her performance in the crowded lobby of Miami Beach’s Colony Theatre. Her face is caked with gaudy make-up and her jiggling backside busts out of her Daisy Dukes. La China epitomizes the stereotypical hustler of present day Cuba. Lugging a piece of carry on luggage, the wild-eyed Cubanasa gesticulates and shouts out the familiar Cuban nickname, asere, (bro) to theatergoers. Once on stage, La China unpacks her huge map of Cuba, and begins to wheel and deal, offering trip packages (that most Cubans could never afford) with built-in strategies for recuperating one’s travel expenses. In Varadero, you can just say a few words to the foreign tourists and they give you money (wink wink). On your trip to Santiago de Cuba, you can sell tranquilizers purchased in Havana. La China is always on the move and her peripatetic sales pitch is fueled by over-the-top reggaetton-fueled gyrations, exaggerated facial expressions, and shrill, incessant chatter. Brito never drops her façade, and likewise, the play never reaches a definitive dramatic resolution. In that sense it has the character and honesty of an intervention or happening. Brito’s performance provokes an outrageous laughter that, combined with the seriousness of the subject matter, leaves the spectator in the morally ambiguous place of laughing at absurd levels of injustice. In The Twentieth Century Show, performance artist Taylor Mac sings one song from every decade of the previous century. This serves as a community ritual, designed to help us purge our outdated ways of thinking and embrace the new century. Following the cabaret structure of music, song, jokes, and storytelling, Taylor Mac (accompanied by the magnificent pianist Matt Ray) creates spontaneous transformative moments within the preset structure of the show. Mac idolizes Nina Simone and Patti Smith because, as he says, they are imperfect singers willing to show their imperfections to the world. This is his strength as a performer; however, in Taylor Mac’s world, we the audience members are the imperfect elements of his voice. He brings audience members on stage to represent the patriarchy. He has us sing Laura Branigan’s corny song “Gloria” with irony. All of this makes for some side-splitting laughs, but it also reminds us of our vulnerability. At the end of the show, Mac instructed the audience to imagine itself in a run-down Jewish tenement in New York City circa the 1920s. Sections of the audience are told to cry like babies. Others play bickering siblings, and complaining neighbors. Amidst the chaos, Mac sings Irving Berlin’s tune “All Alone.” His understated but plaintive voice rises among the audience-generated chaos, reminding us that we each have a choice in how we live together.