"I was working in the art world and I would deal with all these people on eBay selling obvious fakes," she explains, recalling the beginnings of her latest play, Fake. "They were doing it very poorly and being aggressive about it. People don't understand why fakes are so hurtful to the artist. I wanted to dramatize this fascinating world where art has become an investment instead of a passion. With all the commodification of art, it raised the stakes. I had enough experience in the art world I thought I should write a play about it."
Forgeries were personal for Pelaez. Her great-aunt was the Cuban avant-garde painter Amelia Pelaez. In Fake, it is the late Amelia's painting whose authenticity is challenged. "The integrity of Amelia's artwork and her life has always inspired me," Carmen Pelaez said over the telephone. "I learned to write by going to museums and seeing what paintings were trying to tell me. I tried to use all the layers that are in a painting in my writing."
The Miami native lived in New York for 22 years in hopes of becoming an actress. When she found herself auditioning for stereotypical one-note Latina roles, she took to the pen and wrote the one-person play, Rum & Coke, which earned her acclaim and the chance to direct a couple of short films. She moved back to Miami three years ago, where inspiration has not been in short supply.
"You can be what you are here. As a Cuban, I don't have to throw elbows. I don't have to pull out my Latina flag
The cast of Fake is half locals, half out-of-towners. Pelaez could see a cultural division between the groups in the way certain dialogue landed. "The line, 'Cuba is 11 million islands contained in one' was something all the Miami Cubans in the cast could relate [to]." There is also a line in the play where a character is shocked that someone could be described as a discrete Cuban, which got a lot of knowing nods.
Pelaez says Fake will appeal to audiences of all backgrounds whether familiar with the art world or not. "It is a thriller set in an auction house. People will leave with a different perspective of art. People will gather art is more than what's on the canvas. I hope it also leaves people with the question, What would you do to defend what you love most?"
Fake. Thursday, January 24, through Sunday, February 17, at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 800-211-1414; colonymb.org. Tickets cost $35 to $65 via colonymb.org.
Update: A quote by Carmen Pelaez was corrected after this story first appeared online.