Intar has such a lock on plays by disgruntled Cubans that references to U.S. bumbling on the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis echo throughout much of the company’s work. Rogelio Martinez breaks with tradition by setting “All Eyes and Ears” between those two events and aiming his satirical barbs at the Soviet Union. He also takes a novel approach to another perennial theme of displaced Cubans — rage at countrymen who turned communist informers — by writing a role for a vengeful ghost. Even in this uneven production, the playwright earns points by finding new twists on old topics.
Martinez gets more traction from his familiar material by putting a woman in charge of the plot events, which take place after the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco prompted the Russians to move into Cuba bag and baggage.
The family that takes over the gracious home evacuated by wealthy and cultured Cubans who have fled to the U.S. does not owe its good fortune to the head of the household. Mild-mannered bus driver Emilio (Martin Sola), was happier when he, his wife, Carmen (Terumi Matthews), and their 17-year-old daughter, Yolanda (Christina Pumariega), were living in two rooms in the old neighborhood. But Carmen has become an informant with the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Castro government’s neighborhood spy network — and this grand house is that ambitious lady’s reward.
Maruti Evans has knocked himself out on the set, a light and airy library where a family with cultured tastes might sit on antique chairs and read their books while gazing out the French windows. (Curiously, Evans’ handsome setting does not extend to the garden beyond.)
“A room just for reading!” marvels Carmen, who is thrilled by what she perceives as bourgeois extravagance. She is more impressed, though, with the five working toilets in her new home.
Yolanda, who takes after her mother, drops the books on their spines to the floor in her impatience to get at the closets of pretty dresses belonging to the teenager forced to leave them when she fled with her family. Costumer Michael Bevins shopped well for this fashion show, finding vintage frocks that look fresh and flattering.
Only Emilio feels uncomfortable with his wife’s spoils and the dishonorable way she must earn them, as head of the CDR block committee. “They just want someone who blabs about their neighbors,” he warns her. “They’re asking you to be an informant.”
Carmen has no problem with that, and is soon throwing fancy dinner parties, becoming a fixture at CDR meetings and community harangues. Emilio, meanwhile, is drinking heavily. He has also taken to spending sleepless nights lighting candles, tormented by guilt and haunted — literally — by the teenage ghost of Maria (Maria Helan), who has come back to reclaim her dresses, and the family home as well.
Martinez deals with all this angst on such a superficial level that the audience is free to react to it in any number of ways — from horror to humor — while rooting for Carmen to get her comeuppance. The problem is, helmer Eduardo Machado has not settled on a firm interpretive platform for his cast, and they are as much as sea as we are.
Matthews’ Carmen plays it as stiff as the villain in a melodrama. Sola tries for tragedy, settles for pathos. Pumariega thinks she’s in a sitcom. Only Ed Vassallo, both menacing and hilarious as Stepan, the Russian apparatchik, captures the surreal absurdity of the topsy-turvy world these people inhabit, and the cruel things they will do to survive.