From Ports to Puertas

Looking back on ten days in spring that changed the landscape

But the overall success of the Cuban performers from Cuba, Brazil, and Spain made me hope for more of the same in next year's festival, with one notable and sorely missed component: the profound resource of Cuban talent that exists right here in Miami. Not one Cuban writer, actor, or director from Miami participated in the festival. Watching Cuban artists from the island embrace their equally talented counterparts from Miami after years of estrangement made me long to see these actors, writers, and directors performing side by side. Sarraín confirmed that the absence of actors from Miami indeed was a weak aspect of the festival: "One of the most disappointing things was that for different reasons [almost] none of the great talents we have here in Miami were able to participate." According to Sarraín the reasons were valid: "Some don't have time for theater because of their work and daily lives. Others were afraid or didn't believe the festival would really happen." He added, however, that several Miami-based actors already have approached him with ideas for next year's festival.

Although the festival has barely ended, Sarraín and other organizers, encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive public response and numerous standing ovations, already are thinking about next year's festival. "Next year I think we are going to expand the festival to works with more than one person, but still keeping a smaller format," says Sarraín. Although the festival will continue to be international, he points out that the notable presence of Cuban actors is related to the demand for Cuban performers, comparing Miami with other regions of the nation: "It's as if we were in Texas; the Mexican participation would have more weight."

Despite the absence of many talented Miami artists, the city was well represented by one artist, actor/writer/director Teo Castellanos, who performed a segment of a work in progress called NE 2nd Ave. The piece, also written by Castellanos, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, was a theatrical feast of personas as Castellanos transformed himself into four distinct characters linked by the jitneys that travel up and down NE Second Avenue in downtown Miami. Using songs from Haitian folklore, son, hip-hop, and rap as transitions, Castellanos seemed to effortlessly morph into Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian jitney driver; Tey Tey, a young African-American male struggling through an identity crisis; Lan Quisha, a young African-American woman with hopes of escaping the streets through education; and Juan, a Cuban balsero turned self-proclaimed capitalist.

Teo Castellanos admirably propped up local participation in the Monologues
Steve Satterwhite
Teo Castellanos admirably propped up local participation in the Monologues

Castellanos began researching the characters after performing the Jean-Baptiste character for the Miami Light Project's Here and Now Festival in 2000, and that research has paid off. Besides giving a flawless display of the varied accents and diction of his characters, Castellanos uses his body as a prop, capturing the nonverbal language of each character to a tee. He puts his hand on his hip and flips his head with a Lil' Kim tenacity as the defiant Lan Quisha rebuffs a gold-toothed suitor's derogatory rap serenade by saying, "You did not just make up a rhyme undermining my potential."

Michael John Garces, a New York based writer/director/actor who recently directed Eduardo Machado's When the Sea Drowns in the Sand (which received critical acclaim at the prestigious Humana Festival), superbly directed NE 2nd Ave. Garces is debuting the world premiere of two new one-acts called land. and audiovideo with Juggerknot Theatre Company.

Castellanos's piece breaks new ground for Miami theater because it reminds us what it means to be a resident of Miami, not just part of one particular ethnic group living in Miami. Theatergoers will have the opportunity to experience the full-length version of this work, as Castellanos has been selected to be the featured performer at next year's Here and Now Festival in January. Also, owing to numerous petitions from the public, two monologues from the festival, The Dwarf in a Bottle and The Album, will be repeated.

The stage lights have dimmed, but the implications of what took place over those ten days is sure to be far-reaching.

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