Prolific dramatist and writing teacher Eduardo Machado took some time off last year to go back home — a place he hasn't been since he was nine years old. The place: Cuba. The timing: just after the whole Elian Gonzalez mess. The result: a new play, Havana is Waiting, which started performances Oct. 11 and opens Oct. 24 at Off-Broadway's Cherry Lane Theatre.
Michael John Garces, who staged Havana at KY's Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival, again does the honors in New York. Designing the show are Kirk Bookman (lighting), Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costumes), Troy Hourie (sets) and David Margolin Lawson (sound).
A "Peter Pan Airlift" kid in 1961, author Machado hadn't seen his native Havana since then (though he was separated from his parents for only a few months). Though Castro's Cuba is still politically on the outs with Uncle Sam, thawing cultural relations have led to such watersheds as "The Buena Vista Social Club" film, CD and concert tour and more and more exiled Cubans able to visit their homeland. According to spokespersons at Springer/Chicoine, Machado penned Havana four months after visiting the title. The play looks at discovering one's roots, finding growth and maturity, and defining oneself as a man.
A work of fiction, Havana is Waiting tells of a man coping with a storm of emotions as he revisits Cuba for the first time in forty years. As ever, politics intrudes on the personal.
Starring in the piece are original Humana Fest cast-members Felix Solis and Ed Vassallo, alongside Bruce MacVittie and, on drums, Richard Marquez. Author Machado is primarily known for his "Floating Island" plays, a series of four tragic comedies on a Cuban family's destiny and assimilation into America. Modern Ladies is the first in the "Floating Island" cycle, which follows the Marquez family to present day Los Angeles through Fabiola, Broken Eggs and In the Eye of the Hurricane. His Crocodile Eyes was staged at Theatre for the New City in 1999. and The Modern Ladies Of Guanabacoa was read at NH's American Stage Festival in 1997. Other plays by Machado include Once Removed, Steve Wants To Play The Blues, Rosario And The Gypsies.
Regarding his parents' choice to take part in the 1961 airlift, Machado told the New York Times (Oct. 21), "I think giving up your culture is a big deal. The alienation we experienced when we got here was so extreme and colored so much of the rest of my life... You have to become someone else to navigate life here. It's a big price one pays."
As if playwriting wasn't keeping Machado busy enough, he's also been heading the Playwriting Program at Columbia University's School Of The Arts Theatre Arts Division. He teaches first, second and third year graduate students, as well as an undergraduate dramatic writing class. He's taught at NYU, Sarah Lawrence and the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis.
And where does Machado find the time to be teacher and writer? "I'm a workaholic," he told PBOL in 1997. "The film I directed is being edited now, and I'm even acting in one of my students' plays: Partial Complex Syndrome, which is about Cuba now... Also, my latest play was written for Wingdancer Productions; it's called The Day I Left You." Machado does admit to one career stumbling block: "Oddly enough, my plays are never produced in Latin-America. I thought that would change when they started getting done in New York, in Spanish, but it didn't happen, which is incredible to me. Ah well, but the truth is, I love working."
For tickets ($55) and information on Havana is Waiting at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., call (212) 239-6200.
--By David Lefkowitz