Cruz Control

The problem here is that Cruz doesn't indicate in any way whether the dysfunctional universe of the Bustamante family is a result of Castro's Cuba or merely of being human. He seems to want to make a connection between familial and outer-world unrest, but, in the context of this play, the one scene with a passionate political debate comes out of nowhere. Cruz never makes clear the role that history is supposed to play in his drama. For example, we don't know whether Fifo's exasperation, which almost drives him to suicide, is a result of living in Cuba, where he'll probably work in the sugar-cane fields until he dies, or of unspecified longing.

The play does offer some powerful moments, however. Certain idiosyncratic visual images -- the sinister pink corpse of a black-market pig, for example -- do a good job of making the dreamlike aspects of the play accessible. And the dialogue too is laden with images, as well as poetry: Pilar insists that Dimitri evokes for her the smells of the Soviet Union; she sniffs his elbows and declares, "I smell Red Square."

But more than any element provided by the play, Ambush's staging magnificently straddles the worlds of the conscious and unconscious. Indeed, the director -- fortified by Michael Amico's handsome set in which the Straits of Florida are visible through the Bustamantes' windows -- makes the play more meaningful than it probably is. One of the reasons is that he draws intense performances from his actors, particularly young Alex Medina, who plays the mute Camilo with an intelligent expressiveness that eludes many actors with speaking parts. Jessica K. Peterson's Ofelina, for example, is somewhat shrill and mannered. Gilbert Cruz and Oscar Riba give seamless, if not always inspired, performances as Hilario and Fifo, respectively. Greta Sanchez Ramirez infuses Pilar with girlish energy, and Christopher J. Hickman makes Dimitri the sort of deadpan young Soviet you'd like to bring home to mother.

A Park in Our House is a relatively young man's play, and, for now, Cruz's lack of focus is eclipsed by his ambition. His work -- which includes Night Train to Bolina and Dancing on Her Knees -- has already garnered the attention of directors in noteworthy venues such as the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey (where A Park premiered), and off-Broadway's New Theatre Workshop. Florida Stage deserves considerable praise for bringing this South Florida playwright to the attention of local audiences, all the more so because his work has been ignored by Miami theaters, perhaps -- I'm speculating here -- because it doesn't take a stand on Cuban politics.

Does that mean it holds no interest for Cuban Americans? Hardly. Surely Cuban Americans comprise more than their anti-Castro politics. The price of letting this debut escape to Palm Beach County rather than presenting it in Dade, where Cruz spent his teenage years, is that advocates of Cuban-American culture are allowing a valuable resource to go unsung in their community. Wherever Cruz shows up, A Park in Our House is surely not the last we'll hear of him.

A Park in Our House.
Written by Nilo Cruz; directed by Benny Sato Ambush; with Gilbert Cruz, Christopher J. Hickman, Alex Medina, Jessica K. Peterson, Greta Sanchez Ramirez, and Oscar Riba. Through April 26. Florida Stage, Plaza del Mar, 262 S Ocean Blvd, Manalapan; 800-514-3837.

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