Sheila Pell 2:30 p.m., Oct. 22
Becoming Cuba at North Coast Rep
Melinda Lopez's world premiere drama is overlong: in length and ambition.
It's an epic set in Cuba during the revolt against Spain, 1897-98, and tries to cover all angles from a pharmacy in Havana. Everyone wants the island - Spain, Cuba, America - a story that goes back to Columbus thinking he's found the Spice Islands and bringing disease to half the population.
Adela (a sometimes sharp, though often un-specific Eileen Faxas) runs the pharmacy, nicely replicated at North Coast Rep by Marty Burnett's set and Angelica Ynfante's effective props. Like a Curandera she concocts herbal remedies for ailing clientele. She's ailing too: a walking cross-section of the island born (and married to) money and power, but with rebellious kin. Now a widow, she's sealed herself away, as if in one of the porcelain jars that contain her remedies, and refuses to make emotional commitments. She admits that, like Cuba, she's a bunch of "contradictions."
To illustrate them, the play includes Manny (an fierce, ardent Steven Lone), a rebel from the hills who just bombed Santa Clara; the Marquesa (a graciously off-kilter Katalina Maynard), wife of the evil Spanish Captain Isidore (Mark Pinter) who collects ears; vibrant young Martina (Maritxell Carrero), drawn to the nearest glitter; Davis (a defty serio-comical Richard Baird), a "fumbling" American journalist; and Chuco (Aaron Acosta), a Les Miz-like orphan who steals to live.
The script also has several cameos from pre-1898 Cuban history. A Conquistator spouts the virtues of violent colonialism (is he one of Columbus' sailors or one of Hernan Cortes'?). The wife of Hatuey, Cuba's first martyr (who chose to be burned at the stake rather than convert to Christianity), decries the horrors of invasion (though she also sounds like La Malinche, the native woman who aided Cortes' forces).
The cameos have serious things to say about imperialism, male dominance, America, and the virtues of Spanish over English (though the latter is spoken in English, which is, to say the least, strange). But director David Ellenstein stages them as if cartoon figures, tee-heeing the harshest words.
The NCRT production fills in the large tapestry where it can. The script has patches of good writing - and the playwright's critiques would be much better heard if un-muted. But the scenes and tones make hyper leaps and the ratio of excessive information to scant activity weighs everything down. In an effort to cover everything, the play stumbles over itself.
North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, playing through June 23.