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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


The Color of Desire

Also see John's review of Cabaret

Color of Desire
Hannia Guillen and Jim Ballard
Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre presents the world premiere of The Color of Desire by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz. This new play set in Havana in 1960 revolves around a handsome, married, American businessman, who hires a beautiful Cuban actress to play the role of his real life ex-lover in a fantasized continuation of their love affair. His fantasy is a tortured one, however, as the woman he loved and lost actually conducted their affair with the emotional detachment of one healing from the hurt of her own lost love.

Against the passion at hand is the Cuban Revolution threatening to change everyone's way of life. Belen (Hannia Guillen) agrees to play the part requested as she sees the resulting relationship as a possible way out of Cuba. Inevitably, she falls in love with Preston. She naively believes he will see the real person behind the role he has hired her to play, and fall in love with her as well.

Preston struggles to retain his business in Cuba. He is not alone—many wealthy Americans owning property in Cuba face the government seizure of those properties without compensation. They are in that respect as powerless as native Cubans, expect for the fact that they are allowed to leave the country. Belen's two aunts, Leandra (Isabel Moreno) and Albertina (Teresa Maria Rojas), see no realistic way out of the country for themselves. While they wish for Belen to find a way out, they do not wish it to be at the cost of her honor.

The Color of Desire holds a welcome rebirth of some of the poetic imagery used by Cruz in Anna in the Tropics missing in some of his subsequent plays. When American heiress Caroline speaks of realizing the family home in Cuba will be taken from her, she says that she will forever remember the sound of the kitchen faucet dripping, as though the house were crying. It is with language such as this that Cruz captures audiences.

Jim Ballard fits the role of Preston as perfectly as if it were written for him. His characterization is bold and assertive but not brash and thoughtless. The nature of his character holds a callow entitlement, for his own indulgence is at the cost of another's feelings. Yet he manages to not come off as insensitive or cold. His good looks and physique also serve the many passionate shirtless scenes well. (Some graphic staging of sexual situations make this a PG-13 show). As Preston, Ballard holds strong moments of sexual tension with the lovely Hannia Guillen as Belen. She retains the emotional innocence of Belen that places her above the situation in which she is immersed, and wisely does not play the role with desperation—there is a genuine character development in her portrayal.

Teresa Maria Rojas (Albertina) and Isabel Moreno (Leandra) are endearing as Belen's aunts, though their accents do make some words hard to understand and they don't always play out to the audience. Barbara Sloan is engaging as American socialite Caroline. She captures the image of so many Americans blissfully ignorant to what was happening in Cuba. She has a kindness, vitality and class that adds a great deal to this role.

Costumer Ellis Tillman provides stunning women's evening wear for this production. Caroline is an elegant, 1960s fashion plate in every scene. Moreover, the costumes worn by Belen show an increasing sophistication as the show progresses that mirrors her own growing sophistication.

Though there are minor pacing issues in the first act, and perhaps a bit too much focus on the physical part of the relationship between the two main characters rather than the emotional, this world premiere of The Color of Desire shows fine writing, strong direction, and memorable acting moments.

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, Beauty of the Father and Hortensia and The Museum of Dreams. 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 play writing at Brown, the University of Iowa, and Yale.

The Color of Desire will be appearing through November 7, 2010, at the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. Actors' Playhouse is a Florida Presenting Cultural Organization and a nonprofit professional regional theatre hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. In addition to its Mainstage season, Actors' Playhouse produces a year-round five-show season of Musical Theatre for Young Audiences, a National Children's Theatre Festival, and a Theatre Conservatory and Summer Camp Program. Actors' Playhouse is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida. Performances are usually Wednesday - Saturday at 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at (305) 444-9293, or online at www.actorsplayhouse.org.

Cast:
Leandra: Isabel Moreno
Albertina: Teresa Maria Rojas*
Belen: Hannia Guillen*
Preston: Jim Ballard*
Orlando: Sandor Juan*
Caroline: Barbara Sloan*
Oscar: Michael Serratore*
Waiter/Emcee/Young Man: Nick Duckart*

Crew:
Director: David Arisco
Scenic Design: Sean McClelland
Lighting Design: Patrick Tennent
Sound Design: Alexander Herrin
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Stage Manager: Carl Waisanen*

*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


Photo: Alberto Romeu


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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