Lila's Transformation

Havana's hold on its old inhabitants makes for great parody

As Lila desperately calls for Marino (which she often does) and then finally pulls him to her bosom, the dark humor and sexual undertones turn campy. Marino (Hugo Garcia) is a grown man dressed in a little boy's sailor outfit. Garcia capitalizes on the absurdity of his mother's attachment to him by playing his character as dorky and dumb. Despite the fact that his life is totally ruined and his chances for a healthy productive adulthood are slim, Marino's agitation at his predicament is half-hearted. Eagerly running after his childhood sweetheart (Clarissa Rodriguez) or the captain (Jorge Hernandez) he looks up to, he is like a little puppy -- cute but not too smart, which adds to the absurdity of Lila's obsession.

The set design by Leandro Soto is essential to the movement of the play. For the most part, the stage is organized with a balance to the left and right, enhancing Lila's role as butterfly and attention grabber as she flits from one situation and person to another, demanding the spotlight. The costumes (also by Soto) dramatize and heighten the parody of the actors. The perfect example is in José Patricio's role as a little girl. Lila's sister-in-law, who supervises a dress shop, receives a visit from a nosy, uptight neighbor (Lourdes Simon) and her obnoxious little angel (Patricio). Having a man play this snotty brat is brilliant. Patricio, a physically big man, plays the role with a strong physicality and bawdiness. At one point he gooses Lila; when his mother is not looking, he's always up to something unladylike. This, in combination with his hairy legs, horsehair wig, and frilly baby-doll dress, is sensationally funny. Like Vega, Patricio also is a master of incredible facial expressions. His menacing smile and overdone gestures turn the little darling into a dark-humored caricature.

Clarissa Rodriguez and Maria Hernandez, like the chorus in ancient Greek tragedies, sometimes step outside the drama and narrate to the audience. They both play various roles, from submissive seamstresses in starched dresses with pinafores to sassy showgirls, and they do it well, lending a continuity to the action and a mood to the play overall.

The last scene consists of a present-day cabaret, the kind you might find in Havana or in Miami on Calle Ocho. There we see Marino gyrating in black leather pants with the two showgirls, and Lila herself as a jaded and wizened cabaret mistress. As the theater audience is transformed into cabaretgoers, Lila flirts with husbands and jokes with wives, nodding and winking knowingly at the rest of the audience. Although the transition to this is a bit shaky, it is a successful parody of the present-day cabaret and yet another window through which to view Lila's myriad personalities.

The drama crescendos when Marino is offered the opportunity to work at sea. But the ending is intentionally ambiguous. Will the son break away from his mother, from that powerful emotion that is nostalgia? It is an appropriate parallel to exile life and its unanswered questions.

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