Most historical plays tend to focus on the broad sweep of events without portraying the complexity of why things happened the way they did. Carlos Lacamara’s “Havana Bourgeois” is thus all the more remarkable — in less than two hours, he delivers the story of the gradual communist takeover of Cuba, touching on issues of race, class and how revolutionary idealism can be used like any other tool. Jon Lawrence Rivera’s tight direction and a first-rate cast further empower the superb world-premiere production at the Hayworth Theater.
Although the play has a definite anti-Castro viewpoint, it’s evenhanded in depicting how well-meaning people may have initially viewed the man as a liberator.
In 1958 Cuba, Alberto (David Michie) works for an advertising firm, trying his best to get ahead. His main competition at work is the conniving Juan (Nick Ortega), a sycophant who has the ear of the boss, Luis Calvo (Ernesto Miyares). Alberto commiserates with secretly gay co-worker Panchito (Tony Plana) and Calvo’s inhouse lover Margo (Jossie Thacker), and he is kind to the much-abused “messenger boy” Manuel (Theodore Borders). As Castro gains power and the firm is taken over by the revolutionary government, Alberto initially tries to believe that things will be changing for the better. As time goes on, however, and executions mount, he must figure out how to get his wife, Sandra (Jacqueline Pinol), and his young son out of Cuba alive.
Michie is excellent as Alberto, a decent man put to the test in a no-win scenario, and he brings the tragedy of the situation into clear focus. As Sandra, Pinol is particularly fine when Alberto explains that they have to leave the country: In this scene, her shock, anger and grief overcome her in quick, deftly portrayed waves of emotion.
Ortega is memorably oily as the self-serving Juan, Miyares is blusteringly amusing as the corrupt Calvo, and Thacker brings a bitterly funny pathos to the angry Margo. Plana steals the show in an archly humorous turn as Panchito, but he also nails the underlying strength and courage of the character. Finally, as Manuel, Borders clearly displays how ideals can be twisted out of recognition. His perf provides a master class in emotional gradation, with sympathy, anger and righteousness warring within Manuel from moment to moment, and it’s a truly impressive piece of work.
Playwright Lacamara effectively explains history through how it affects a single workplace — these ad execs have to sell the revolution. Rivera’s pacing is swift and his staging graceful, but the use of Castro speeches between scenes comes off a bit heavy-handed. John Iacovelli’s terrifically detailed office set is a knockout, and it brings the historical period to life, from the louvered windows to the painted tile floor. Traci McWain’s costumes are equally splendid, with a bounty of perfect small touches offering just the right tie, guayabera or polished leather shoe.