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BWW Review: Pastelitos, Family Values, and Tough Lessons Delivered in Abundance With THE LADY FROM HAVANA at Stageworks Theatre

JL Rey has assembled a Top-Notch Cast!!! These Ladies are exquisite.

BWW Review: Pastelitos, Family Values, and Tough Lessons Delivered in Abundance With THE LADY FROM HAVANA at Stageworks Theatre

Like the classic movies and tv shows of yesteryear, every once in awhile something comes along that takes you down memory lane and allows you for even just a fleeting moment to live outside of your present tense. Like a warm blanket just out of the dryer the memories envelop themselves around you and put you at ease in comfort, joy, and sometimes in sadness and pain. All of these lessons and more make up the root of the story in Luis Santeiro's The Lady from Havana. Set to the tune of these classic films and tv shows like The Golden Girls, Miami Vice, etc.... The Lady from Havana tells the story of a daughter Marita, her elderly mother Mama, and her Mama's closest confidant Zoila in 1980's Miami all living under the same roof.

Over a span of ten years time we see stories of life, death, of happiness and joy; of sadness and pain, heartache and tough love. In a note from Producing Artistic Director Karla Hartley she mentions the distance between Miami and Cuba, "90 miles away, the distance across the Florida Straits, between Florida and Cuba, is roughly the same distance between Tampa and Orlando, but the two places could not be further apart--culturally, politically, financially." Much like an episode of The Golden Girls, when taking stories set in memories and tough lessons there has to be some joy, some comedy, and some way to bring the audience in. At the same time there should be a moral lesson grounded in heart, love, and above all a sisterhood that shines through. The Lady from Havana does just that, and Director JL Rey has assembled a top-notch cast with not a weak link to be seen, each actress equally funny, equally heartbreaking, and equally a joy to watch. Standing Ovations are not the end all be all of a job well done, its rather the work that the performers on stage bring to the show each and every second. Judging by the audience's response and the pure joy that was felt throughout the room, I'd say these performers stepped it up ten fold and should be commended.

In its third year Stageworks continues its commitment to the Hispanic Initiative. Most often Stageworks presents these shows in tandem in which one night is English and another performance is in Spanish. The Lady from Havana gives the audiences both in each performance. Three beautiful actresses make up this top-notch cast. Mary Gonzalez plays the hard-hitting tough as nails daughter Marita. You get the sense that she has worked hard for what she's got and now she wants to take care of her family when they need it most. She asks her mother Mama to come to Miami and live with her. Once Mama arrives the secrets unfold and the truth comes out. Marita just wants the best of her time left with Mama and much like Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia Patrillo these two ladies share the same type of banter and love. Lily Garcia's turn as Mama is a show stopper, complete with one liners and a smart as whip attitude that is grounded in hard love and strong lessons; that only someone who has seen everything would be willing to dish out. The mother, daughter relationship shared here is top notch and both ladies should be commended for their work.

Lillian Almodovar plays the excited and often "Rose-like" character of Zoila. Zoila's first arrival to America is one of great joy to watch. From moments of excitement about a dishwasher, to the "blue water" in the toilet her delivery is a hilarious turn. Much like that of Rose Nyland, Zoila has many a story of "....back in Cuba," and is excited to see everything America has to offer her and she quickly embraces its givings. I think what is endearing about Zoila is the heart of her character. She truly cares about Mama as if she were her own daughter and would do anything for her.

The interesting turn in this show comes in Act 2 where we see not the same characters, but rather the same women playing three completely different characters than those of the first act. Lillian as Isabel, Lily as Gloria, and Mary as Rosa each character having a different but influential role in the lives of the characters seen in the first act. Ten years is what seperates the two acts and as everyone knows a lot can happen in ten years time. The world changes in the blink of an eye but it's the lessons we learned along the way that give us a sort of "Greenlight" philosophy in our GPS of life. It all is grounded in what we learn from these lessons that truly capture the heart of the human condition. Anyone coming to this country wants to achieve their own "version" of the American Dream that is right for them in that moment.

Technically sound The Lady from Havana is a simple and yet complex show one in the same. Simple in regards to the set, props, etc...yet complex in the story in which it tells. Frank Chavez designed a functional set that works well for the world of the show. Karla Hartley's video design and sound design work very well for the world in which these characters reside. At one point the use of "Conga" by Gloria Estefan had the audience clapping to the music and doing a little reminiscing of their own with images displayed on screen from classic film and tv. Jo Averill-Snell's lighting design works well as its intimate when it needs to be and functional in other moments. Heather Kreuger's costume design displays every bit of classic Miami flair. There is a track-suit in Act One that you have to see to believe, and it all just works here. The one thing I will comment on the technical side is the use of the choir music in Act 2. At least in this instance the music was too loud and some of the dialogue was lost. Minor hiccup in an otherwise truly flawless performance.

JL Rey, cast, and crew and the fine folks at Stageworks Theatre have once again exceeded in their commitment to producing live theatre that ignites and celebrates the human spirit while challenging the thresholds of intolerance and insensitivity, and showcasing the diverse artists of Tampa Bay. A quick-paced but never rushed seamless two hour plight makes The Lady from Havana the must-see ticket! It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by audience of a larger capacity than we have seen as of late, and as always it feels like coming home, and in the spirit of this ancient and beautiful ritual I give a "Hats-off" to the Stageworks team for providing us a space to laugh, cry, create, and celebrate in a time when we need it more than ever. "Thank you for being a friend, travel down the road and back again, your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant..." Tickets for The Lady from Havana can be purchased at Stageworkstheatre.org, and you can catch all the fun through June 20th, 2021.

Photo Credit: Stageworks Theatre


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