¡Bienvenidos Blancos!- Alex Torra & Team Sunshine Performance Corporation

The Take-away

  • Identity and history are complicated and layered, which makes it hard to edit into a digestible piece 

  • Beautiful design that gave me some great surprises

  • Definitely still a work in progress, but this moment in the progress is really beautiful

 

In Our Pockets

Sarah

I’ve worked with Team Sunshine before. I don’t always like their work, but I’m always interested in it, and I like that all of their members get to fulfill a vision with different shows. Personally, Makoto’s projects have always been the most interesting to me, and this exploration of identity reminded me of a project of his from year’s ago- JapanAmerica Wonderwave. I was excited to see it.

 

Melissa

I’ve seen a few Team Sunshine pieces, namely two incarnations of The Sincerity Project and Henry V: Your Prince and Mine. Their simple, honest, yet unabashedly performative style really appeals to me; I was very moved by The Sincerity Project and interested in Team Sunshine’s consistently ambitious ideas. I was really excited for this piece. But I did see a Sunday matinee on one of the first really beautiful days of spring. In general I think it’s really hard to do theatre or see theatre when you know the sun is shining and it’s warm for the first time in one million years.

 

The Design

Sarah

I really liked the soft touch of the lights. I never wondered where I was or struggled to see, which is no easy feat considering the box set in a no-proscenium space.

Melissa

Agreed, Oona Curley’s lighting was saturated but subtle; her use of shadow created fascinating depth in a flat landscape. It only faltered when the actors’ shadows were visible onstage as they waited offstage for their entrances!

Sarah

The sound in the beginning with the band was just incredible.

Melissa

Anthony Martinez-Briggs played with subtle ambient noises, particularly the relationship between amplified sound and speech that happens outside of that amplification.

Sarah

Martinez-Briggs and the band gave you such a great feel of being at a rumba show in Havana. It really set the mood of being tourists or spectators.

Melissa

The band was fantastic.

Sarah

I was also so into the costumes. I got so much out of all of the details. I knew who people were immediately. 

Melissa

Agreed, costumes were detailed and specific. At the same time, they seemed occasionally difficult for the performers’ to quickly change into–or maybe I just saw an off day.

Sarah

The set gave us such a comforting, lived-in feel. Plus, there were a surprising number of moving pieces and options in a space that at first seemed to be a box.

Melissa

At the same time the starkness of the set felt strange to me. It felt so simple, really leaning on the irony of this world (you think Cuba is gorgeous beaches everywhere but actually look at the mundanity of these people’s complicated lives!!). Its transformative properties–as a beach, as an office, as a –fell flat for me until we actually got to the play’s heart: a family home.

Sarah

I really loved so many small details in this. The clothesline, the suitcase, the guns and hats. Muah! (You can’t see it but I kissed my hand)

Melissa

Wonderful specificity as we transitioned from the (less successful) bureaucratic spaces into the domestic spaces. Even though I didn’t love the fanciful scenes, I still enjoyed the conquistador helmet/coconuts and the lobster/armored glove. A funny but subtle way to connect the commercialization of those products with the country’s history of colonization.

 

The Performances

Melissa

This was a wonderful showcase for Cuban performers Lori Felipe Barkin, Jorge Enrique Caballero Elizarde, and Idalmis Garcia Rodriguez. Jorge in particular was captivating as performer/MC at the beginning of the show.

The spectacle of touristy Cuba was never fully realized for me, in spite of Lori, Jorge, and Idalmis’ best efforts. Yes they were larger than life Latinx stereotypes in the ways they were supposed to be, but it never reached the height of fantasia I was promised. More striking were those thoughtful moments about family and identity: a silent, simple movement piece about immigration, and a beautiful showcase of a mother who’s now renting her home to white tourists after her daughter moves to America.

Team Sunshine company member Ben Camp and collaborator Jenna Horton were game second players, taking a backseat and allowing Lori, Jorge, and Idalmis to really shape the world and define their role in it.

 

The Direction and Script

Melissa

Since this is a devised piece, the direction for me is the same as talking about it as a play. I will say that overall I found the pacing erratic, which contributed to the play’s disjointed feeling.

Sarah

I am so glad that Alex Torra and Team Sunshine are talking about this. I think there is so much meat in the discussion of cultural identity, and how it dilutes over space and time. The idea that you culturally evolve over generations and the guilt that it leaves as your connections to your history ages and dies is something I think everyone thinks about, but doesn’t always talk about.

That said, I think the piece needs some editing. There were moments I loved so much (drop-of-a-hat transition from tired office workers to tourist attractions, the leaving-Cuba montage, trying to get wifi) and then moments I found really distracting from the pull of the piece such as the military parade. Overall, I think it is getting there so quickly and in a way that is interesting to witness.

I wonder if there is a version of this that doesn’t need Torra to come out and explain why he made the show, but maybe that would be a loss.

 

Melissa

I was frustrated and disappointed by this piece. It doesn’t just need more editing; it needs more shape, more urgency, and, frankly, more bravery. I agree with you, Sarah, that the conversation ¡Bienvenidos Blancos! begins to have is fascinating and vital: watching this family story become twisted and fractured by the stresses of immigration, and starting to recognize the strains on individual and collective cultural identity was stirring. But we didn’t even begin exploring it until the last third of the play! And even then, that story was so fractured and disjointed that it took the director literally coming in at the end to explain how they might all be connected!

 

I felt like I was being tricked by Torra’s piece at the end, where he comes out and reads a piece in Spanish about his family and why he was inspired to make the play. That’s supposed to ground us and give us our context–it’s the glue that we’ve been waiting for to bind all of this together. And at first, it does. It’s hard not to feel something when I see Alex tear up talking about the loss of his aunt, or about his mother who “saw the play last night.” But then I remember that Torra and Team Sunshine have literally made it a staple of their careers to explore the performativity of sincerity onstage. And then I wonder about how constructed this particular moment is–is that line about his mother seeing the play different every performance, or was she always in the audience last night? And then I have to wonder: would I have gotten any significance from this piece if Torra hadn’t come in and forced me to confront his personal relationship to it?

 

Before the last third and Torra’s reading, the play functioned as a series of fun but slow sketches, drawn out over so much time that they lost almost all humor for me. Do I love seeing white people get excoriated as idiot children conquistadors? Absolutely, we are the worst. But what I was told I would get is a piece that explored how Cuba both disdains its capitalist colonizers and seeks to manipulate them for profit. Instead the play never felt quite willing to explore that nuance–which would have added even more depth to the idea of cultural identity. If, as Torra says in his final speech, part of his inspiration for the piece is him passing as white and feeling more like an American, then in a way the tourists are also a part of him and his cultural identity. Is he a tourist in his own ancestry? Is he exploiting a culture he’s supposed to be a part of? Right now the play wants me to connect all of these things, but so lacks the confidence to do so on its own merits that it has to spell everything out for me.

 

Ultimately for me the piece felt like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. We have all the pieces forming the edges, but none of the picture in the middle, so we’re left with a tantalizing, frustrating intimation of a spectacular experience.

 

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