Theater / Film

Review: Zoetic Stage’s ‘Cuban Chicken Soup’ Is Seasoned and Comically Spellbinding

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
May 7, 2024 at 11:08 AM

Local actress-comedian-playwright Elena María García in Zoetic Stage’s one-person original play “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café” through Sunday, May 19  at the Carnival Studio Theater inside the Adrienne Arsht Center, Miami. (Photo by Morgan Sophia)

It was 2017 when local actress-comedian-playwright Elena María García introduced us to the character Elena Flores in “¡FUÁCATA! Or a Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe” co-written by García and Zoetic Stage Artistic Director Stuart Meltzer.

Ten years later, García and Meltzer have audiences catching up with Elena, sole owner of the event planning company “Elena Plans Big Things,” again at Zoetic Stage, along with the cast of characters that come in and out of her world in the one-person play “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café.”

Their new work plays at the Carnival Studio Theater inside the Adrienne Arsht Center through Sunday, May 19.

Local actress-comedian-playwright Elena María García inhabits 14 different characters in 90 minutes in Zoetic Stage’s “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café.” (Photo courtesy of Morgan Sophia)

Like “¡FUÁCATA!,” the ingredient for “Cuban Chicken Soup” as a theatrical tour de force is García. After 90 intermissionless minutes, García will have you believing that you’ve just watched a show featuring 14 actors – a flirty valet at a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant in Wynwood (laughs will come from many local references), three ornery octogenarians, a gas-station griddle cook named Pipo whose specialty is python fritter nuggets, a “family first” candidate for Congress who believes, among many things, that there should be a community where only women convene and men aren’t allowed, and the flamboyant and gregarious (this is how he is described in the script) salon owner Fausto whose job it is to make every woman feel like an Audrey. “Audrey Hepburn gave me a passion,” he says.

A few characters from “¡FUÁCATA!” reappear but smartly the co-playwrights give them storylines in the current play that don’t rely on what came before – Elena’s office assistant, Sophie, who was single, is now married to Archie, pregnant with a bad case of acid reflux, and planning her own baby shower; Beatrice Goldberg, who had Elena in charge of her 50th wedding anniversary party is kvetching that her running-for-Congress daughter is planning an 80th birthday party and making guests pay to attend a la a political fundraiser, and Elena’s Mami who is now living with her and has been banned from the kitchen after several fires, some originating from aluminum foil inside a microwave.

Elena María García revisits the character Beatrice Goldberg in Zoetic Stage’s “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café.” (Photo courtesy of Morgan Sophia)

Like the character Elena, “¡FUÁCATA!” has matured into “Cuban Chicken Soup.” Its originality remains the astonishment factor of García’s comedic gift and feat of acting precision — her seamless switch from one character to the next to introduce an entirely different persona in mere seconds. The sleight of hand in that exercise rather than the characters’ emotional resonance seemed to be what drove “¡FUÁCATA!.”

While the precision and stamina are still present, what comes across more in the new work is an emotional resonance and characters that feel “lived in.” While the script is full of superbly comic moments, it also finds a way to develop the characters more fully to allow García the chance to dip into her dramatic abilities.

[RELATED: Zoetic Stage Evolves Original”¡FUÁCATA!” With “Cuban Chicken Soup”]

In one of the truly comedic highlights of the show, García can show off her shape-shifting ability to improvise on the spot as she sashays into the audience as hairdresser Fausto, going from seat to seat and row to row. At record speed, she interacts by tossing off an unscripted line or bit that attests to the absolute depth of García’s comedic talent.

There’s a subtle choice that may go unnoticed but shows García and Meltzer’s writing mastery – the only character that Elena doesn’t play and who is only present in voiceover is her husband, Javier. In “Cuban Chicken Soup,” Javier is the catalyst for much of what happens in the play for a wake-up call of sorts for Elena.

Like its predecessor, another strength of “Cuban Chicken Soup” is its sincerity and window into the world of a Latina going through mid-life struggles and its universality.

Like “¡FUÁCATA!,” the ingredient for “Cuban Chicken Soup” as a theatrical tour de force is local actress-comedian-playwright Elena María García. (Photo courtesy of Morgan Sophia)

But perhaps a weakness, like its predecessor, might be if either play could have life outside of Miami and does that need to be a consideration? With Miami’s elevated status of late, it certainly may work in another urban city. And other actresses have stepped into Lily Tomlin’s shoes to take on her unprecedented one-woman show so that wouldn’t be unheard of. But it feels like both of these creations come alive in García’s world and one she may only be able to inhabit.

The scenic design by Natasha Hernandez keeps the stage minimal with a living room chair at stage right and a table that doubles for a restaurant, a hair salon and Elena’s house. At right, there’s a simple chair, which is mostly the setting for Elena’s white Honda Civic (a call back to the previous show where the automatic seat belt still is a source of annoyance). In the back, a set of stairs with a landing offers another playing area. A stuffed chicken is placed on a shelf above the landing and “¡FUÁCATA!” is referenced on a back wall written in black paint next to a painting of a palm tree on the back of stage left.

Meltzer also directed García with staging that has her using almost every inch of the playing space, which helps keep up the show’s energy. Becky Montero’s lighting design uses soft blues and other pastel hues and, even in scenes where there needs to be more expressiveness, it’s never harsh.

Co-playwrights Elena María García and Zoetic Stage Artistic Director Stuart Meltzer on the set of “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café.” (Photo courtesy of Morgan Sophia)

Sound design by Matt Corey rounds out the portrait of Elena’s life with door slams, restaurant and salon chatter, Everglades atmosphere, and an opening soundtrack that deserves attention.

While the usual routine is to slide into your seat before the show starts, chat with those around you, look at your program, in this case take a minute to listen to the music.

It sets the stage for what’s to come and songs that set the tone – an offbeat, fun-filled riff on all that we know as normal curated by one woman.

There is The Puppini Sisters’ remix of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” Dayme Arocena’s “Lo Que Fue” (“What Was”), and Brielle Von Hugel and Virginia Cavaliere’s Andrew Sisters-esque “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” among others. I was so taken by the songs I used the Google feature “Identify song by listening.”

Little did I know at the start, but that’s just what the inventiveness of “Cuban Chicken Soup” makes you want to do, look deeper – how did she do that, I want to be part of it, and can I be an Audrey?

WHAT: “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café,” by Elena Maria García and Stuart Meltzer

WHERE: Zoetic Stage production in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, through Sunday, May 19. Additional performances: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18.

 COST: $55 and $60

INFORMATION: 305-949-6722 or is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at

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