It’s all about the café. Not coffee, mind you, but the café. This is what Elena Flores would have us believe as she gets through her busy day in search of an elusive cup of that hot, black glory that fuels Miami. Watered-down American coffee simply won’t do. Neither will a cuppa tricked-out joe from Starbucks. No self-respecting Miami Cuban would settle for anything less than a real café.
“There’s a lot of cojones in that little white cup,” Flores says in the opening of ¡Fuácata! Or a Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe, which premiered February 23 as part of the Arsht Center’s series Theater Up Close. Actor and playwright Elena María García plays the main character, Flores, in the one-woman show, which she co-wrote with director Stuart Meltzer of Zoetic Stage.
An ode to café cubano sets the tone for ¡Fuácata!, which follows Flores from 10:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on a busy workday as she deals with ten other women who represent a cross section of Miami’s diverse community — from a Jewish grandma to an oversexed flamenco performer — all played masterfully by García in a series of high-energy comedic monologues and conversations in English and Spanish with many a "fuck" or "coño" thrown in to show that moments such as getting stuck in Miami traffic are frustrating in any language. (García repeats her Spanish lines in English without missing a beat.)
But first, "fuácata," the word that also captures the day’s endless challenges. García breaks out of character to explain the Cuban word to gringos in the audience. Like café, it packs a punch. She compares it to a backhand, a slap in the face, or a wakeup call whenever life sends you for a loop. “Say it with great conviction,” she tells the audience. “Take it to work tomorrow.”
The day is full of fuácatas, and the first one occurs when the coffee machine breaks at La Isla Café, where Flores stops every workday morning for her second caffeine boost of the day. For the self-proclaimed “super Latina superhero” — wife, mother, and businesswoman who runs an event planning business called Elena Plans Big Things — this is an unspeakable tragedy. As the play unfolds, Flores’ plans for big things are dealt a few fuácatas she can’t always control.
García flips from one character to another effortlessly as she captures their mannerisms of with just the right amount of caricature. They’re bright and loveable in their quirkiness. Among the women is Sophie, Flores’ 22-year old breezy Miami girl, who says “like” and “OMG” and tells her boss she doesn’t spend the whole day on Pinterest. There’s also Flores’ mom, who speaks with great pride about how important it is to add sugar and mucho amor to the pot when making flan.
García’s acting had the audience in stitches from beginning to end in this mostly upbeat comedy. The only somber monologue in the play tells the story of Marisol, a humble Honduran woman who sells bottled water on the streets and is grateful to have survived the horrors of human smuggling.
Although ¡Fuácata! is not overtly political, Flores ends her frantic day at Gloria and Emilio Estefan Middle School with a big container of homemade ropa vieja her mom prepared for International Day. All kinds of fuácatas take place: Her daughter parades a Puerto Rican flag instead of a Cuban one, which prompts a funny lecture about the easily confusable flags.
A verbal tussle with Sandy Holmes — a smarmy, gossipy PTA president — ensues and brings out the cojones in Flores. Holmes doesn’t see the need to celebrate Miami’s diversity. In fact, she wants to change the name of the school and “drain the swamp.” Flores reminds her that it’s International Day, not “Nationalism Day” — delivering what might be the biggest fuácata of the day.
Back in monologue, Flores claims, “If you want war, prepárate.” Those fighting words garnered applause from the audience on opening night.
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As Flores drives home with her mom and daughter, she waxes proudly about how she is fighting to teach her daughter the same principles she learned from her mother.
¡Fuácata! is lighthearted and entertaining, but it also suggests that its resilient Latinas can survive without having to apologize for who they are or being ashamed of their heritage. The work is intrinsically Miami, but its message is universal: Women have to juggle different roles and roll with the punches of so many fuácatas. At the end of the day, Flores maintains her dignity and sanity in Miami, even without a sip of her café.
¡Fuácata! Or a Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe
Through March 12, presented by Zoetic Stage at the Arsht Center, Carnival Studio Theater in the Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $50 to $55.