Performing most of the monologues like a skilled stand-up comedian, Pelaez is reminiscent of Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin in their Broadway outings, with one important difference: Those two comedians crafted their productions to prove they could portray anyone from a child to a man; Pelaez is intent on demonstrating that her characters could be anything were it not for Castro.
Although she often flirts with mounting the soapbox (particularly in the show's pointed ending), Pelaez usually pulls back in time, as when Camilas's grandmother sarcastically calls to another protester: "It only rained in Cuba when we wanted it to." Firing off killer wisecracks and flashing warm smiles, Pelaez puts a sugar coating on the bitter pill of Cuban-American politics. In the hands of this master storyteller, Rum & Coke becomes an evening spent with good friends who regale us with stories that leave us feeling we know more about them, and possibly about ourselves.
As good a storyteller as she is, Pelaez is an even better comedy writer. Much the same way that Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks helped make Middle America accept Jewish culture in the Fifties and Sixties, Pelaez is able to translate the universal humor and specific attitudes of another culture. For example, she offers the following reasons for children born to exiles in the United States to refer to themselves as Cuban Americans. All of her life, Camilas says, she's been living two lives: the one she knows and the life her relatives constantly tell her would have been hers had Castro not come to power and her family not left Cuba. As Iluminada the fortuneteller puts it: "It doesn't matter where the egg was laid, as long as the chicken is Cuban."
This cultural mediator who has both Hispanics and Anglos rolling in the aisles carries a diplomatic portfolio that should please both camps: Pelaez is a Cuban American born and raised in Miami who went on to earn a degree from Manhattan's prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After graduating in 1993, she began developing Rum & Coke, which premiered off-off-Broadway in 1996.
After her appearance at Area Stage, Pelaez takes the show back to Manhattan for both Pulse Theatre's Femme Fest and HERE Theatre's One and Only Festival. I predict that another venue, your television screen, will soon follow, because with comedy talent like hers Pelaez is definitely headed places.
Still, much of the credit for the success of Rum & Coke must go to director John Rodaz, who guides the smooth shifts between characters and controls the frequent transitions from comic zingers to dramatic reflections with astute pacing. The result is a satisfying theatrical event that transcends just a great night at a comedy club.
So let the muckamucks in local government rename the region Miami-Dade County. Until Rum & Coke closes on February 1, I'll think of at least a certain strip of local real estate as Carmen Pelaez country.
Rum & Coke.
Written and performed by Carmen Pelaez; directed by John Rodaz. Through February 1. For more information call 673-8002 or see "Calendar Listings.