A powerful and meaningful ‘Celia and Fidel’ at Arena Stage

A new play based on a fight between Cuba’s most influential female revolutionary and its most notorious political leader.

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.)

Marian Licha (Celia Sánchez) and Andhy Mendez (Fidel Castro) in ‘Celia and Fidel,’ running October 8 through November 21, 2021, at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

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.

Marian Licha (Celia Sánchez) and Andhy Mendez (Fidel Castro) in ‘Celia and Fidel,’ running October 8 through November 21, 2021, at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

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.

SEE ALSO: Arena Stage to roar back with mix of bubbly and soul (season announcement)

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Jordan Wright is an accomplished writer on food, spirits, travel, and theatre. Her clients include the tony Georgetowner and hip sister publication the Downtowner, the Washington Examiner and San Francisco Examiner, as well as LocalKicks.com, DC Metro Magazine, Washington Life Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, MDTheatreGuide.com, The Alexandria Times, Hartkeisonline.com, and now DCMetroTheaterArts. Her articles feature restaurant openings, food and wine events, food-oriented film reviews, farmer’s markets, food trends, restaurant reviews, food memories, new food products, hotels, spas, resorts and interviews with the country’s leading chefs – from Jose Andres and Top Chef’s Carla Hall, to CakeLove’s Warren Brown and Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn. She has also interviewed famed chef and TV star, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, cookbook author Joan Nathan, and director Robert Kenner for an in-depth article about his film Food, Inc. Photographs by Wright accompany many of her articles and NBCNews.com has picked up and used several of her stories. Jordan Wright hails from three generations of show business. Her grandmother, Betty Morton, was a Ziegfield Follies girl; her step-grandmother Corinne Griffith, a noted author and silent screen star wrote Hail to the Redskins; her father, Georgie Price, an entertainer and founder of The Lamb’s Club in New York, as well as a CBS radio show host, songwriter and vaudevillian; her sister, Penny Larsen Vine, a theatre critic both on radio and in print for Variety, a former longtime member of the Outer Critics Circle, and a lead performer in countless national touring companies; one brother, Peter Price, appeared in leading roles in over 16 major motion pictures for MGM; while her other brother, Marshall Price performed at Carnegie Hall. Niece, Stephanie Vine, was the final Annie in the original production of Annie on Broadway, and niece, Liz Larsen, has received two Tony nominations and a Helen Hayes award for lead actress in Sunday in the Park with George. Wright sang with Columbia Records in New York and Barclay Records in France. In the sports world her grandfather was the original owner and founder of the Washington Redskins football team. Wright has traveled throughout four continents and currently resides in Old Town Alexandria.


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