By Reinaldo Povod
Directed by Marilyn Caamacho
Produced by UrbanTheater Company and The Peolpe*s Theater of Chicago
At The Batey Urbano Performance Space
Intensely performed look a low-lifers explodes life’s crisis
“A man must descend very low to find the force to raise again.” –Hasidic Poem
Cuba and His Teddy Bear is near miss, but a close one. With a large trim of 30 minutes (mostly in act one) and a faster pace with a clearer resolution, this powerful drama could become a masterful urban drama.
As presented at The Batey Urbano Theater, Cuba and His Teddy Bear is an explosive worked peopled with unsavory low-life urban drug dealers and junkies. We meet Cuba (Madrid St. Angelo) the intense father trying too hard to be a mentor/friend and father to his gentle, sensitive artistic teenage son, Teddy (Christian Blackburn). Ever present is Jackie (Hank Hilbert), Cuba’s nervous and comical side-kick drug dealer whose comic relief needs to be toned down a few notches.
We learn much about Cuba’s background as an ex-con dealer with six gunshot wounds and a religious curse on his head. Cuba struggles to sell drugs to support himself and Teddy. Cuba is quite open about his trade, his past and his present vices as he wants Teddy to understand his way of life. Teddy dotes on his intimidating father. Madrid St. Angelo exudes all the macho, the pain and the angst Cuba possesses. St. Angelo aptly displays the damage that his life’s decisions have rendered upon him as he tries too hard to impress his son.
Teddy is a mysterious teen who loves to write as his imaginations while his gentleness makes him so sensitive that he fears most people. His father totally browbeats him causing Teddy to withdraw into his private world. Is Teddy really hiding his life choices and lifestyle from his domineering father? Christian Blackburn’s excellent nuanced performance boroughs into his deeply seeded emotions in need of expression. The early scenes between Blackburn and St. Angelo were riveting.
Gradually, we learn some of Teddy’s secrets and we are given hints that he may be more than mentored by the Tony Award winning junkie, Che (Julian Martinez). Are they lovers? We are not given adequate explanation about Teddy’s experimentation with heroin either. Was that an act of love toward the junkie Che?
Cuba and His Teddy Bear attempts to cover themes such as personal identity crises, redemption, forgiveness and personal accountability. Filled with extreme emotional tantrums and intense fear and paranoia, Cuba and his drug users/dealers exhibit primal desires and log-seated survival instincts. Playwright Reinaldo Povod presents a riveting depiction of low life but he can’t figure out how to end his play.
Too many questions are unsatisfactorily lingering. The intense, in-your-face acting from St. Angelo, Martinez and Blackburn captured the angst and dysfunctional personal traits of their characters. As I stated earlier, Cuba and His Teddy Bear sure came close to brilliance but the wordy, over long first act and the uneven pace cooled the building of dramatic tension. However, there is much to admire in this ambitious wrenching world of depressed losers. Kudos to The People’s Theater and UrbanTheater Company for mounting such raw theatre.
At The Batey Urbano Theater, 2620 W. Division Street, Chicago, IL, tickets $20, $10 Thursday Industry night, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 6 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.