By Reinaldo Povod
Directed by Marilyn Camacho
Produced by UrbanTheater Company and The Peolpe*s Theater of Chicago
At The Batey Urbano Performance Space
Review by Al Bresloff
is known for the many small storefront theaters and the quality of the work that comes out of these small troupes composed of lovers of the “theater”.Over the years we have watched as some of the smaller groups become larger and more established but they never forget their roots, that little store in the neighborhood that went from an idea/dream to a full blown theater company. We have another new little theater in town. This one is located on in the “heart” of Humboldt Park- The Batey Urbano Performance Space. You might want to place this one in your memory bank as you will be hearing a lot about this space and those that are using it, Urban Theater Company and People’s Theater of Chicago. Both of these troupes have a mission to bring the streets to the stage with plays that deal with the Human Experience. They do this in hopes that from what we learn, we can improve the future and be more aware of experiences that may be foreign to our own.
The current production, “Cuba and His Teddy Bear” written by the late Reinaldo Povod takes us to the lower East Side of Manhattan, to a tenement apartment shared by Cuba ( a powerful performance by Madrid St. Angelo, who has truly matured as an actor) and his teen age son Teddy ( Christian Kain Blackburn) Cuba is a drug dealer. His wife has left him and he is raising his son, in what he feels is the best way possible.
The time is the 1980’s. Cuba is dealing to keep food on the table and a roof over his head, knowing that if he gets caught, he will be a goner ( three time loser- goes to the slammer). His buddy Jackie ( deftly handled by Hank Hilbert) has a score and a buyer as well as two pounds of Maryjane to unload. Teddy says he has an associate who is an addict that he will get to and sell the pot for Jackie. His associate, Che ( Julian Martinez is sparkling in this role) ends up being a bad influence and bringing into the picture another guy named Dealer who only wants the pot.
Not wanting to spoil the entire picture that has been painted by Director Marilyn Camacho, I will not give you all the details of this 2 1/2 hour story that deals with relationships ( father and son, man and friend), identity ( there are many discussions on this topic and possibly a few to many- pare a few off, without losing the meaning and the show runs closer to two hours) and the coming of age, not just for Teddy but for the adults in this painting as well. I call this a painting as it is set up so that we the audience can look into this “home”, this seedy tenement with old furniture and pictures, memories of the better years when the family was whole. Now it is a man and his son trying to stay alive in a world that is changing and where a man must know who he is to survive.
The set by Jorge Felix is very authentic and the props that have been assembled by Noel Spence take me back to my grandmother’s house. All the details are covered making this picture very accurate. While these characters are Puerto Rican, they could be a number of other ethnicity’s who at one time or another have dealt with ( or may be doing so even today) these problems. Camacho does a nice job with her first directorial production using the space of this new theater to its best advantage. There were a few tech glitches in the performance I saw and true to the saying “the show must go in”, it did. And even during what might be taken as trying times, the actors, in particular St. Angelo ,kept their cool and waited for the lights to go back on- never breaking character and never losing the moment that they had created.
This is a powerful story filled with powerful performances. St. Angelo and Blackburn had the father-son chemistry that makes it feel real.They take us deep into the souls of these characters, stripping away that facade they have created for each other. Hilbert, as the sidekick has all the comic lines and in some cases, where tension is so high one might think the actors will explode, he brings them down to reality. There are some who probably will look at this character and question why the comedy- I can tell you that it works. The other cast members, Ivan Vega, Kamal Hans and Erynn MacKenzie are all solid actors with roles that are important to the overall picture. I have always said that it is the ensemble that makes the play whole.
Each part of the puzzle helps to complete the picture that the playwright wanted us to see, and this cast does it to perfection.
“Cuba” will run through December 13th at The Batey Urbano located at 2620 W. Division with performances as follows: Thursday,Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets are only $20 and there is on street parking ( without meters for the most part) all over the place. There are also some great and fun ethnic restaurants between the sculptured flags of Puerto Rico. To order your tickets call .
photos: go to http://aicardi.net/teddybear