Let me refresh your memories of Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary who descended the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, where he had been hiding with fellow guerilla fighters, Celia Sanchez and Che Guevara. Together they and others succeeded in overthrowing the Cuban government which was ruled by the very corrupt, Mafia-connected dictator, Fulgencia Batista. With his anti-imperialist politics, Castro soon found an ally both militarily and economically in the Soviet Union pitting him against the U. S. He went on to lead Cuba from 1959 through 2008 while his cohort, Celia Sanchez, remained at his side for many years informing his most important decisions. Got it?
It’s important to keep this in mind as the plot of Ceia and Fidel mentions Celia’s death and introduces us to Castro’s new aide de camp, the young revolutionary, Consuelo. During this period Castro was becoming an autocrat himself and was facing a U.S. blockade throwing his people into poverty and causing thousands to want to leave for the U.S.The history of this lengthy period is fascinating, made even more so by playwright Eduardo Machado’s unique construct set in the 1980s and infused with magical realism. (Celia’s ghost continues to give Fidel advice and critique her replacement, Consuelo.)
Andhy Mendez affords us a riveting portrayal of Fidel replete with his ever-present Cohiba cigars and fiery persona. He remains on stage throughout, strutting, menacing, flinging out edicts and commands like a field marshal, and tossing out often comic retorts to all challengers. Marian Licha grants us a gob-smacking performance as Celia, as does Heather Velasquez as Consuelo. The exceptionally tight cast includes Liam Torres as Manolo Ruiz, an old university friend of Fidel’s, now Cuban exile acting as President Carter’s U.S. emissary and offering the isolationist dictator a shady solution to his sticky problem of Cubans demanding to leave the impoverished country for better opportunities in the U.S.
It’s Fidel’s fixation with fiction writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez that fuels his vainglorious fantasies — that and his enormous ego and plenty of Cuban rum. Mendez touches on all the major points of the Cuban revolution including the Miami Mafia, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Mariel Boat Lift, the Bacardi family (early supporters of the Revolution), Bebe Rebozo, Nixon’s partner in crime, and the many other secrets that have emerged over the years.
Directed by Arena Stage’s Artistic Director, Molly Smith, it’s a powerful and meaningful perspective that everyone should see — those that lived through those times and those who do not know the history.
Set Design by Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Nicole Pearce; Original Music and Sound Design by Roc Lee; Assistant Director Gregory Keng Strasser; and Dramaturgs Jocelyn Clarke and Soyica Diggs Colbert.
Running time – Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Celia and Fidel plays through November 21, 2021, in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($40–$95) may be purchased online, by phone at 202-488-3300, or at the Arena Stage sales office Tuesday through Saturday from noon until 8 p.m. for phone purchases and beginning 90 minutes prior to each performance until curtain for in-person purchases. For information on savings programs such as pay-your-age tickets, student discounts, Southwest Nights, and hero’s discounts, visit arenastage.org/tickets/savings-programs.
The digital program can be viewed here.
COVID Safety Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and photo identification must be shown to enter the building. Arena’s complete safety protocols are here.
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