By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
The play's emotional tension rises and falls so steadily throughout the first half that it could almost become hypnotic -- if not for Pedro's meaty script. We may be on a familiar roller-coaster ride of desperation, outrage, raucous humor, and affection, but morally and spiritually, we don't know where we'll end up.
The cast is equal to this challenging material. Capiro first performed in Miami in 2001 as part of the International Monologue Festival. He brings to the stage a range, mastery, and above all physicality and stamina characteristic of actors trained in Cuba. Flamboyant in a gothic black cape with white ruffled collar, his litany in act one on the virtues of mantecais absurd, operatic, and disturbing -- one of the theatrical high moments of the play.
A testament to the high level of acting skill on display here is how the actors can add new meaning to the banal word manteca each time they utter it. One of the most intense moments of the play is when Duran's Celestino raises a butcher knife, screams "Manteca!" and runs offstage. It is both a war cry and an admission of defeat. For the most part, though, they all support one another well.
Manteca, By Alberto Pedro. Directed by Alberto Sarrain. With Pablo Duran, Sandra Garcia, and Dexter Capiro. Through June 30 at La Magagna, 4819 SW 75th Ave, Miami, 305-262-3600.
Garcia, as Dulce, is a driving comedic force in the play; her talent for dishing out acerbic one-liners and idiosyncratic theories is nothing short of remarkable. She anchors the dramatic triangle, mediating between the warring brothers. Luckily the triangle does not polarize characters into stereotypes. Pucho and Celestino are no Cain and Abel: They are equally disturbing and sympathetic.
Manteca is a play to be seen and seen again. As one of the most significant works from this crucial time in Cuban history, it will surely make its way into the canon. We are lucky it has found a home here.