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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Two Sisters and a Piano

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Two Sisters and a Piano
Deborah L. Sherman and
Ursula Cataan

Two Sisters and a Piano is the story of the lives of two sisters who have been imprisoned in their own home as a result of speaking out against a repressive political regime.  The performance I attended was graced by the presence of the playwright, Nilo Cruz, and a talk-back session following the show.  

The play is set in 1991, in the thick heat of a Havana summer, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Maria Celia is a married writer who two years earlier wrote an intemperate declaration in favor of liberalization after being inspired by the hopeful words of Mikhael Gorbachev and the promise of perestroika (restructuring).  Her younger unmarried sister Sofia, a pianist, signed Maria Celia's manifesto, and the result was a two-year prison sentence for both sisters.  The action begins after they are released from Castro's prison and placed under permanent house arrest.  Their mother has passed away, their father is in America, and Maria Celia's husband has escaped to Europe where he struggles to secure their freedom. 

When political censorship denies Maria Celia even her husband's love letters, Lieutenant Portuondo, who oversees their sentence, offers to read portions of the seized letters to her, but at a price. The price is that Maria Celia must tell him the story she is in the midst of writing.  In the telling of her tale there is the real danger of her words and ideas being viewed as inflammatory, and of possible repercussions. Together and individually, Maria Celia and Sofia struggle to maintain their hope, their dignity, and even their identity in the home that has become their prison.  

Cruz writes with a passion that translates even in its silences.  These moments are deftly acted by Deborah L. Sherman as Maria Celia.  She paints the haunting physical and spiritual suffering of a woman whose freedom has been taken but who refuses to be crushed.  Ursula Cataan has an energetic charm as Sofia.  Though her character is less intellectually tortured than Maria Celia, her anguish at her circumstance blossoms to forever alter her cheerful demeanor. Ricky Waugh as Lieutenant Portuondo aptly creates tension between his character and Maria Celia on levels ranging from sexual to political.  Matthew Chapman is the quirky piano tuner, Victor Manuel, enamored of Sofia but frightened of returning to her side lest he be somehow punished. 

The set for this production feels just right in helping to create the desired feel of the imprisonment of the sisters.  Even the most comfortable of rooms can be torture if the inhabitants are being kept from the life they have already begun and deserve.  In Two Sisters and a Piano, Cruz touches us in a reminder that imprisonment of thoughts and words exists alongside imprisonment of the physical self, in a world still filled with injustices that we as Americans will hopefully never experience first hand.

Cuban-American Cruz was the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1960, he immigrated to the Little Havana area of Miami in 1970 on a Freedom Flight; he eventually became a U.S. citizen. His interest in theater began with acting and directing in the early 1980s. He first studied theater at Miami-Dade Community College, later moving to New York City, where he studied under fellow Cuban Maria Irene Fornes. Cruz went on to receive his M.F.A. from Brown University in 1994.

In 2001, Cruz served as the playwright-in-residence for the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, where he wrote Anna In The Tropics.  The play received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Tony Award nomination, and the Steinberg Award for Best New Play. His other plays include Night Train to Bolina, Dancing On Her Knees, A Park In Our House, Two Sisters and a Piano, A Bicycle Country, Lorca in a Green Dress, and Beauty of the Father.  Cruz is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including two NEA/TCG National Theatre Artist Residency Grants, a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, San Francisco's W. Alton Jones Award and a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award. He is an alumnus of New Dramatists and has taught playwriting at Brown, the University of Iowa, and Yale.

Two Sisters and a Piano is based in part on the story of Maria Elena Cruz Varela, a prize-winning Cuban poet who organized a human rights organization in 1991 called Alternative Criteria.  Following this act of dissent, she was assaulted in her Havana apartment by a government sponsored vigilante group.  She was dragged down several flights of stairs and beaten in front of a cheering mob, which included a group of school children brought in for the occasion.  She then was forced to eat papers containing her writing before being imprisoned.  After leaving prison, she was placed under house arrest, eventually being allowed to leave the country for Spain, where she now lives.

This Promethean Theatre production of Two Sisters And A Piano is scheduled to appear through March 16, 2008.  The Promethean Theatre is housed on the 2nd floor of The Mailman Hollywood Theatre. The Mailman Hollywood Theatre is located at Nova Southeastern University, 3301 College Ave., on the 2nd floor of the Mailman Hollywood Center in Davie, Florida.

The Promethean is a professional, nonprofit, regional theatre company seeking daring, creative, and original approaches to classical pieces, as well as contemporary and new works, that engage the imagination and inspire passionate discourse among its artists and audience. For more information on the theatre and its season, you may contact them by mail at 4 Northeast 44th St., Miami FL 33137, by phone at 786 317-7580, and by email at www.theprometheantheatre.org.

Cast:
Sofia: Ursula Cataan*
Maria Celia: Deborah L. Sherman
Lieutenant Portuondo: Ricky Waugh*
Militia Guard / Victor Manuel: Mathew Chapman

Crew:
Director: Margaret M. Ledford
Scenic Design: Daniel Gelbmann
Lighting Design: Robert Coward
Sound Design: Matt Corey
Costume Design: Ananda Keator
Stage Manager: Belkys Cordero

* Designates member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage managers in the United States.


Photo: George Schiavone


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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