When Eduardo Machado was nine years old he was flown out of Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, to live in America free of Communist rule. Machado didn't return to the country of his birth until 38 years later. After he once again saw what he had left behind, he turned his experiences into Havana Is Waiting, the fascinating new play at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Originally produced at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville last year as When the Sea Drowns in Sand, the play deals primarily - on the surface, at least - with the story of Federico (played by Bruce MacVittie) who returns to Cuba after a very similar set of experiences. His timing, however, could not be less fortuitous as he times his visit just as the conflict over Elian Gonzalez is breaking out, in both Cuba and America.
Most of the time, Machado handles this very well. The play's second act is mostly masterful in its construction, taking the more straightforward and dramatic story of the first act and transforming it into something still more universally meaningful. The acts are slightly uneven in tone - the second act, for example, delivers a far more comic punch than the first act suggests the place is capable of - but the play as a whole is written very tightly, with a firm grasp on the sensitive nature of some of the issues without dwelling on too much sentimentality.
This is aided greatly by Michael John Garces, who also directed the Humana production. Garces has has provided some clever and compelling direction utilizing the tiny stage of the Cherry Lane and the three performers in such a way that the stage often feels nearly full. Not all of his ideas work, though; a few moments, particularly at the beginning and ending of the play, seem unnecessarily visually inconsistent with what happens in between. But with the help of Troy Hourie's sets, Kirk Bookman's lights, and Elizabeth Hope Clancy's costumes, the physical production never seems out of sync with Machado's work.
The performers make their own vital contributions. Vassallo is particularly strong in his role. Though saddled with some improbable character developments, he makes everything he does seem thoroughly real and frequently touching. Solis, with his intense sense of humor, is particularly effective during the second act, when he is allowed to let go with the force of his character's feelings. MacVittie has the most difficult job as a stand-in for Machado and handles it well, but never makes his character come alive in the same way the others do.
Machado reinforces the old notion that you can never go home again, but you can at least learn something along the way. Havana Is Waiting, while serving as a stark reminder of what home is, and what's truly important in our lives, remains an intriguing and thought-provoking play.
Havana is Waiting