BWW Interviews: Director Roger Robinson Talks Off-Broadway's CHOCOLATE & STRAWBERRY
International Studio Theater will present the Off-Broadway premiere of Strawberry & Chocolate by Senel Paz (newly translated by Eugene Nuñez), the 1990 three character play that was later made into an acclaimed Oscar nominated film, beginning a limited engagement on November 1st at the new off-Broadway 777 Eighth Avenue Theater. Tony Award winner Roger Robinson direcst a cast that features Roy Arias, A.J. Cedeño, and Andhy Mendez. This production marks the premiere of the English language version of this play.
Robinson, a 47 year theatre veteran had much to say about what the show was about, and how it imitates reality.
How would you describe this project that you're drafting?
I would describe it as a play about tolerance. Especially today, with the same-sex marriages coming to the forefront in our country, and elsewhere in the world. It seems to be the last stand for civil rights - to let those people have a choice and the same freedom and equality. It deals with that, a friendship between a gay man and a straight man in Cuba, where there had been a great crackdown on homosexuals.
It was first a book, and then a Cuban director got a hold of it and thought it would be a movie, about 20 years ago. And it was the only Cuban film to be nominated for an Academy Award.
How does the play imitate real life?
[Same-sex marriage] needs to be legislated. It's vastly unfair, and I think that's what makes this show so timely, even though it was written over twenty years ago and dealt with a political system in Cuba, which is still not resolved, there was a documentary that showed that if you walked differently or talked differently or dress differently, you could be accused by anyone, it was very much like the McCarthy era here. In a documentary, they talked to a journalist, who was not gay, who was taken into a room because of the way he walked and talked, and told that he was going to be taken into a concentration camp to 're-educated'.
This play was adapted by the author of the book from the movie, and it's really timely. It's about tolerance and live and let live.
Were you part of the actual translation of the book?
No, the translation was done by Eugene Nuñez, but I've assisted and we've worked on it in rehearsal to make the language more colloquially American. This is the first staging of the play outside of Cuba. Mirta Ibarra, who was in the movie version, she came into town and met with us.
What do you hope people get out of the show?
More tolerance towards people who are different than they are, and hold different beliefs and come away more tolerant. As one of the characters says in the play "We have to get along together, no matter what our orientation, the color of our skin, our religious belief. We're here under one sun."
What is your feeling towards the show?
I didn't know I would enjoy directing it as much as I've enjoyed it.
Is this the first show you've directed, or have you directed others?
No, I've directed others, but this is my first New York show. I've directed out of town, and for colleges and universities, but this is my New York debut.
Talking about yourself now, you were in August Wilson's plays, weren't you?
We just recorded all of them for the New York Public Library and New York Public Radio System down at the Green Space. And they're also doing an American Master Series, a two hour documentary on him on PBS, which will air in 2014.
Do you have any thing coming up after Chocolate and Strawberry?
There's a Black Equity Theatre in Los Angeles, it's called the Ebony Reperatory theatre. Working there has been a joy for me, in fact I'm going out to do something in early spring out there.
What has been your most memorable experience in the theatre profession?
This may sound trite - but I've had so many, and they are continuing. So I would like to say there have been several, and I don't want to single one out. I'm so grateful to be working in this business, in a craft I really, truly, love. I love being an actor. I thank God daily for being able to do this, being able to do what I do, and make a living out of this, and I am completely grateful.