09/26/2020 UN LUGAR PARA SUENOS (A PLACE OF DREAMS) Merely Players
In 1957, Cuban revolutionary Menelao Mora Morales died in a failed attack on President Batista's palace. Saul Aguilar was a young man given responsibility over Menelao's cache of weapons.
In 1960, Fidel Castro succeeded in overthrowing Batista, only to replace that repressive regime with his own. Children across the island were bribed with Ice Cream to accept their new indoctrinational education.
As the Castro regime continued, parents desperately tried to escape with their children, elders courageously sent their families to America and stayed behind to ensure escape, young children faced exile without their parents, child brides alone in America giddily braved their equally young husbands.
Many of the diaspora from the Cuban revolution congregated in Atlanta, and in 1977,.the Atlanta Cuban Club opened its doors, providing “a social and cultural venue with the objectives of promoting and preserving Cuban traditions and
culture, but also welcoming citizens from other countries who wanted to share in those objectives.”
Even more recently, the Atlanta Cuban Club provided Merely Players and Merely Writers with a stable venue for meetings and performances. Now, that kindness is being returned. Writers interviewed many of the club members and compiled their stories into Un Lugar Para Suenos (A Place of Dreams), live-streamed last night and now available any time for on-demand viewing.
These are all compelling stories and characters, beautifully performed, and delivered in an elegant and nicely filmed and edited work that is sure to move, sure to inspire.
First off, there is “The Broom Factory” (written by Liz Dooley), which features Saul Aguilar’s story. Steven Medina plays Saul as a young man, starting a new family, struggling over the conflicting needs of his cause and his family. This is followed by “Ice Cream” (also written by Liz Dooley) in which a teacher, Paquita Estrada (played by Carla Scruggs) rages against her brother (a Castro supporter) about what the new regime means for her students.
In “Maria” (by Mary Beecroft), Veronica Burman plays a young mother, clutching her infant and anxiously awaiting transport off the island. This is followed by one of the more layered and compelling pieces, “Angel” (pronounced /AHN-hel/) (also written by Ms. Beecroft), in which a grandfather (played by James Connor) confronts Castro’s soldiers, one of whom he has known since the soldier was a child. They are there to “collect” Angel’s son for conscripted service, but the family has already fled. This piece is gripping and funny, showing us a character who feigns loyalty and befuddlement, but whose core of strength ultimately shames the soldiers into leaving his house.
“Carmen Bernal” (by Jean Hedgecock), Amanda Ortega plays a young woman, part of “Operation Peter Pan,” in which hundreds of children were given refuge in Miami without their parents. Young Carmen is packing for the trip and leaving behind a gift for her mother, unsure if she’ll ever see her again. Finally, we have “A Scrapbook for Tuti” (by Peter Dakutis). in which a contemporary girl (Isabella, played with wide-eyed innocence by Sophia Ochoa) completes a school report on “The Person I most admire,” in her case, her grandmother Lupe (“Tuti”), who came over as part of Operation Peter Pan and was followed by a young man she would eventually marry. Lupe is played by Marlys Cintron (as a young bride) and Rose Szymanski (as her contemporary self). This is a beautiful piece, highlighting the innocence of both young Lupe and her granddaughter, the bravery it took to face life in a place where one didn’t know the language, the determination to do whatever it took to survive, the sorrow over family left behind, the joy and anticipation of her imminent wedding, Isabella’s pride and joy in her “Tuti” and everything she became, and Lupe’s frustration caused by the banal bureaucracy of Castro’s Cuba (Lupe was “underage,” so her father’s permission to marry had to approved by Moscow).
These pieces were directed by Jackie Estafen Zurinaga (“Broom Factory,” “Maria,” “Angel”), Joanie McElroy (“Ice Cream”), and Carla Scruggs (“Carmen Bernal” and “A Scrapbook for Tuti”). All the directors were “on the same page,” with the film exhibiting a highly unified sense of mood and style. They all elicited near perfect performances from each member of the cast. Ms. Zurinaga also edited the final film flawlessly, with music and stock footage intercut with each monologue and with transitions made up of video footage of the actual people in the stories (complete with some “happy ending” what-happened-next details).
The entire film was one of the best usages of Zoom (and eventually YouTube) of this entire pandemic “season.” Indeed, monologues tend to lend themselves to effective streaming (even the three-actor “Tuti” was constructed as three intercut monologues), and I truly appreciated the skill (and affection) that went into the creation, the design, and the construction of this.
To digress into a personal anecdote that speaks to why this play spoke to me so deeply, when the Cuban Marial Boat Lift of 1980 occurred, I was living in Harrisburg PA, near Fort Indiantown Gap, where most of the Marial refugees were sent. I had some friends who worked as ESL teachers there, and who actually sponsored some of the refugees. To my credit, I contributed a few blankets and some Apartment Security deposit funds for one of them. His story was so much like those on display in his play that it struck me that nothing had changed in Cuba between 1962 and 1980. He had been arrested for sabotaging a “Party” radio station and had to flee leaving behind his wife and young child. To my discredit, after he was settled and employed, my attention wandered and I lost contact, so, to this day, I don’t know if he was ever reunited with his family.
With all the political divide over the issues of immigration – especially refugee asylum – these stories need to be witnessed We need to re-humanize those who have been demonized by blow-hard pundits and political rhetoric. These are all flawed, imperfect, but deeply recognizable and compelling human beings. And their stories should not be forgotten, especially now that their Atlanta “home”
(The Atlanta Cuban Club) remains closed.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #UnLugarParaSuenos #MerelyPlayers #MerelyWriters #AtlantaCubanClub)
As information, Merely Players is applying to The Library of Congress to archive all the original video interviews, and Un Lugar Para Suenos itself will be archived with the Georgia Humanities Council