Theater / Film

Zoetic Stage evolves original ‘¡Fuácata!’ with ‘Cuban Chicken Soup’

Written By Deborah Ramirez
April 24, 2024 at 12:51 PM

Elena Maria García transforms into 14 different characters in Zoetic Stage’s original one-woman show “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café,” in previews on Thursday, May 2 with an opening Friday, May 3 at the Carnival Studio Theater in the Arsht Center, through Sunday, May 19. (Photo courtesy of Chris Headshots)

When Elena Maria García and Stuart Meltzer took on the challenge to create an original one-woman play about Latina identity, they had no storyline or plot in mind — only endless possibilities.

“We had no expectations other than to get a one-person play together,” says Meltzer, the artistic director of Zoetic Stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

Elena Maria García co-wrote and stars in “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café” running through May 19 at the Arsht Center. (Photo courtesy of Chris Headshots)

“And we sort of figured out the story as we went,” recalls Meltzer. “In our process of doing this, it gave us a sense of freedom and discovery with the characters and who will help tell the story.”

Meltzer had seen García in her one-woman show “Do You Speak Mexican?” a humorous take on life as a Cuban-American in Florida. He realized she had a “great knack for being on stage by herself.” Zoetic agreed and commissioned the work.

From that came “¡Fuácata! A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe,” which premiered at the Arsht in February 2017 and returned there in 2018. At the time, it was one of Zoetic’s top-selling shows, according to Meltzer. It also played at Coral Gables’ Actors’ Playhouse in the fall of 2021 as audiences were cautiously venturing back into theaters during COVID restrictions.

Elena Maria García and Stuart Meltzer continue the “¡Fuácata!” experience with their new one-woman show, “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café.” (Photo courtesy of Chris Headshots)

García and Meltzer – friends, they say, since their early days in theater — co-authored “¡Fuácata! A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe.” Meltzer directed the production and García, gifted with comic timing and a master at rapid-fire improvisation, took on the starring role, where she transformed into more than 20 characters.

The co-writers now hope to engage audiences with a fresh take on the “¡Fuácata!” experience. Their new work titled “Cuban Chicken Soup: When There’s No More Café” gets its world premiere in previews on Thursday, May 2 then opening Friday, May 3, at the Carnival Studio Theater in the Arsht Center, and running through Sunday, May 19.

If “¡Fuácata!” was Cuban coffee on speed, “Cuban Chicken Soup” serves up generous portions of comfort food.

“I think the universal theme in ¡Fuácata! was about female empowerment, that we always find a way to keep moving forward,” says García in a recent phone interview. “In Chicken Soup (the message is) take the time to stop and observe everything around you and appreciate what you have and do not take things for granted.”

“¡Fuácata! A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe” debuted at the Arsht Center in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Justin Namon)

“¡Fuácata!” centered around a day in the life of Latina party planner Elena Flores as she navigates Miami traffic and American assimilation – both with the aid of strong Cuban coffee. The play derives its name from Cuban slang for a backhanded slap or, in this context, a wake-up call.

The new play revisits Elena a decade later. Two more original characters are back: zany assistant Sophie, who comes up with a few surprises, and family matriarch “Mami,” who continues to nurture and impart wisdom but now faces challenges that come with aging.

The creators, however, caution against expecting “¡Fuácata!” Part 2. Their new show is a stand-alone play, they say, that intends to make audiences laugh but also take a deeper dive into human relationships.

“When we approached this new work, we said ‘Well, where is Elena now, and where are some of those same characters and how have they evolved? That was such an exciting component for us to figure out together,” says Meltzer.

Elena Maria García as Marisol, the undocumented immigrant who risked all for a better future, in the 2017 production of “¡Fuácata!” at the Arsht Center. (Photo courtesy of Justin Namon)

As the title suggests, chicken soup is a metaphor for healing and bonding. For both writers, it’s also part of family tradition. Meltzer makes his chicken soup with matzo balls, reflecting his Jewish heritage. Elena’s Cuban version comes with malanga and yuca.

“In my home, if someone is sick, the way to heal is for my mother to go into the kitchen and make chicken soup,” says García.

In the play, the main character goes through a crisis. “And Mami is trying to fix it the way mamis do,” García adds.

“Chicken Soup” is also physically more demanding than its predecessor, even though fewer characters show up, according to the writers. Over 90 minutes, García will morph into 14 characters versus more than 20 in “¡Fuácata!.” Without giving anything away, García will be required to be physically more active on stage.

The actor builds up stamina, she says, by taking three-to-four-mile walks several times a week accompanied by 52 pages of dialogue tucked in her exercise pants waistband.

“I need to have my mind in my bone marrow; my body has to regulate itself so that I don’t blow all my energy in the first 15 minutes, which is so easy to do because this show is so much more physical,” she adds.

The new play also presents an opportunity for García, gifted with comedic timing and skills, to showcase her dramatic side as well, says Meltzer.

Elena Maria García as Sophie, a millennial party planning assistant, in the 2017 production of “¡Fuácata! A Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe,” at the Arsht Center. (Photo courtesy of Justin Namon)

“People always say that Elena is the Cuban Carol Burnett and that’s all wonderful… But there’s a deeper tone in ‘Cuban Chicken Soup,’ ” he says. While still being funny, “there’s a lot more gravitas.”

García hopes people will see themselves and their loved ones in her new one-woman show and reflect on what really matters in life.

“That’s what theater was meant to be from the very beginning: To bring the mirror up to you and say ‘Are you this person? How do you change? How do you make the world a better place to be in?” she asks. “So, in certain moments, in certain characters, this play brings up the mirror and says ‘Look at yourself.’”

Perhaps, with a hearty serving of chicken soup.

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: Previews 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3; 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 4 and 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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