With its contrived domesticity and false-seeming performances, the first act of Melinda Lopez’s drama at the Steppenwolf is a non-starter. It is Chrismukkah 2001, and the attacks of 9/11—and the encroaching U.S. military reaction—are on everyone’s mind. Sonia (Sandra Marquez), a middle-aged Cuban-born matriarch, is frazzled as she prepares for the visit of her Jewish father-in-law. Her teenage children give her patronizing looks; her husband does the same. This multi-faith holiday-infused chaos soon gives way to something truly upsetting, when Sonia’s nineteen-year-old son announces that he is quitting college to join the Marines. When war seems imminent, what parent wouldn’t be unnerved? But the way it plays out here, under the direction of Jessica Thebus, Sonia’s anger is treated as aberrant behavior, only to be explained by her own traumatic experiences in Cuba as a teenager. (Everyone else in the house is positively serene about the kid’s future in uniform.) Act Two travels back to Sonia’s childhood in Havana, when her parents, fearing Castro’s future vision of Cuba, squirrel their daughter away to the U.S. in 1961 on a forged visa. This is where the play genuinely reveals a story beneath the polemics, with characters that resemble flesh-and-blood human beings. (Vilma Silva is especially good as Sonia’s pearls-and-gloves mother.) That Sonia never sees her family again—both parents suffer terrible fates—is of particular anguish, though she doesn’t share the details of this with her family until her son finally returns home from his tour of duty—minus an arm. If only the play could lose its Act One appendage, as well. As it is, the linking of our current war on terror with that of the terrors in Cuba—as well as the terrors committed against Jews in Europe, circa World War II; i.e. the Jewish grandpa storyline—is forced and offers a slippery sort of intellectualism. Theater-induced introspection comes when you see people living out their lives, not debating them. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.