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BWW Review: CELIA AND FIDEL at Arena Stage

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A fast-paced drama set within Cuban politics during Castro's dictatorship

There aren't many plays which dive into the politics of Cuba. Cuban playwright Eduardo Machado boldly explores the relationship between Fidel Castro and Celia Sánchez in his riveting play, Celia and Fidel. Arena Stage's production of Celia and Fidel, directed by Molly Smith, is a fast-paced drama set within Cuban politics during Castro's dictatorship.

Surrounded by tall wooden bookcases and Cuban flags, Castro (Andhy Mendez) mulls over upcoming UN speech and his plans for Angola with the assistance of Consuelo (Heather Velazquez). However, he can't stop thinking of his fellow comrade and political revolutionary, Celia (Marian Licha), who passed away, and what she would say if she was there.

BWW Review: CELIA AND FIDEL at Arena Stage
(L to R) Andhy Mendez (Fidel Castro) and Marian Licha (Celia Sánchez) 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.

The play takes a "magical realist" turn as Celia comes back to remind Fidel of the values of their revolution. This twist in the vein of Gabriel García Márquez adds a layer of lightheartedness and absurdity to the political intensity.

There is never a dull moment in Celia and Fidel. Machado's quick dialogue matches the briskness of Smith's direction. A strong cast draws the audience to the edge of their seats. Mendez's Fidel is fiery but at the same time vulnerable underneath his layer of machismo. His chemistry with Licha as Celia is passionate and heated, especially during their discussions of the future of the Cuban people. The most captivating scenes involve Celia and Fidel interacting with Consuelo and Manolo Ruiz (Liam Torres), an old university buddy. The clash of ideologies and arguments over the fate of the Cuban people is the cornerstone of this play.

BWW Review: CELIA AND FIDEL at Arena Stage
(L to R) Liam Torres (Manolo Ruiz), Marian Licha (Celia Sánchez), Andhy Mendez (Fidel Castro) and Heather Velazquez (Consuelo) 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.

While the play keeps to Castro's office, Celia, Consuelo, and even Manolo are messengers to what is going on outside. Tales of despair and hopelessness told in haunting detail reflect a grim reality of starvation and uprisings.

The set, designed by Riccardo Hernández, starts outside of the theater. The walk to one's seat begins with an encounter with a TV blaring a broadcast of one of Castro's speeches and photos of Sanchez along with Castro. It sets a strong foundation and ambience for entering into Castro's office.

With its outstanding cast and gripping plot, Celia and Fidel is a must-see play.

Running Time: About 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission

Fidel and Celia runs from October 8 until November 21, 2021 at Arena Stage. Tickets can be purchased here.


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