Rum & Coke has begun its Off-Broadway engagement at the Abingdon Theatre on West 36th Street. Miami born, Cuban-American performance artist and actress Carmen Pelaez, stars in this work, which she has also written for the stage. She is the grand-niece to the revered painter, Amelia Pelaez and radio star Ernesto Galindo. When we first see Ms. Pelaez, a short stout woman who stumbled through her opening sequence, you may ask yourself if she can sustain this 90 minute production. However, by the end of her performance you will realize that this woman is a dynamo of the single performance genre.
After a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see one of the few paintings by her great-aunt that was allowed out of Cuba, she decided to explore her family history to discover her place in it. This quest takes her from New York to Miami and finally to the now quiet home of her ancestors in Havana. On her journey we are first introduced to Ms Pelaezï¿½s Cuban-American friend who lives in Miami. She gave us information about the life that a Cuban-American must face in the Miami of today. This is followed by Ms. Pelaezï¿½s best character, her grandmother who lives in Miami and demonstrates for a return to Cuba and a better life. Along the way we meet a Cuban fortune teller and a Cuban prostitute who all give us additional incite into life in the old and new Cuba. We finally meet her elderly aunt who did not leave Cuba and now lives in a pristine but quiet sad wedding cake design of a house. She has become the de facto curator of the family treasures including dinner plates being put into use for the first time in over 40 years during Ms Pelaez visit to Cuba. Her aunt provides us with a detailed look at the life of their family in Cuba before Castro took over as she guides her nice through her visit to modern day Cuba.
All the parts are played by Ms. Pelaez. Her penetration into a culture that she sees as a deteriorating life for the Cuban people, yet an inevitably transformed society, is quite remarkable. Ms. Pelaez's autobiographical travelogue goes on a bit too long, but patience is rewarded, for there are funny and touching depictions of not only elderly relatives, but also of Cubans of all ages and circumstances. The production uses a large number projections and graphic technology, which were provided by Chris Kateff, to identify people and places. The projections add decorative atmosphere in the absence of a traditional set.
Director Carl Andress most recently directed Die! Mommie! Die! at New World Stages, and the New York premiere of Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo's musical A Wonderful Life for the Actors' Fund of America. He directed Charles Bushï¿½s award-winning Shanghai Moon at New York's famed Drama Dept., starring Mr. Busch and B.D. Wong. He has accomplished along with Ms Pelaez a very crafty picture of Cuban life before and after the takeover by Castro.
This charming monologue searches for the beauty of the past and finds it in the survivors of the present. It is worth the trip to the Abington Theatre to not only see Ms Pelaez, but to find out about the little known country of Cuba.