Two Sisters and a Piano, Nilo Cruz's Plaintive Tale of House Arrest, at Gershwin Theater, October 2131
The setting of Nilo Cruz's play Two Sisters and a Piano is stark, but the implications of this graceful work are far-reaching and will linger with you long after the curtain falls on this production, directed by Mary Beth Easley. The two-act play, which won the 1999 Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award, will be performed at Brooklyn College's Gershwin Theater from October 21 to 31.
The play is set in 1991, in the thick heat of a Havana summer, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Maria, the older sister, is a writer who, two years earlier, was enraptured by the promise of perestroika and the hopeful words of Mikhael Gorbachev and wrote an intemperate declaration in favor of liberalization. Her younger sister, Sofia, a pianist, caught her enthusiasm and also signed the manifesto. The result was a two-year prison sentence for both sisters. The play begins after they have been released from Castro's prison but are still confined under permanent house arrest—each wanting her own space and individuality, each frustrated by the limits assigned, but happy to be among familiar things, like a piano in the livingroom.
Sofia (Sañdflower Dysoñ) is a romantic, a dreamer, but her dreams look to the future. Maria (Abigail Liddell), yearns for her husband who has fled the country and now works with Amnesty International, lobbying for their release. As a result, Maria's daydreams linger in the past. Into their home comes Lieutenant Portuondo (Francis Mateo), in search of documents. He is clearly the enemy but nevertheless falls in love with Maria. He comes with gifts of food and rum, but he is also armed with contraband letters from Maria's husband, which he uses to dominate her. Sophia also finds herself drawn to another visitor to the house, the piano tuner Victor Manuel (Pablo Trufiño). When news of the upheaval in the Soviet Union pierces the haze, the sisters believe their own liberation may follow. Alas, the clamp-down on Castro's island outpost comes quickly and furiously.
The play is based in part on the story of Maria Elena Cruz Varela, a prize-winning Cuban poet who, in 1991, organized a human rights organization called Alternative Criteria. Following this act of dissent, she was assaulted in her Havana apartment by a government-sponsored vigilante group. After being dragged down several flights of stairs, Cruz Varela was taken outside of her apartment building and again beaten in front of a cheering mob, which included a group of schoolchildren trucked in for the occasion. She was then forced to eat papers containing her writings before being arrested and imprisoned.
Playwright Nilo Cruz was born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1961. He immigrated to the "Little Havana" area of Miami in 1970, and eventually became a U.S. citizen. His interest in theater began with acting and directing in the early 1980s. In 2001, he served as the playwright-in-residence for the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, where he wrote Anna in the Tropics, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2003 and received its Broadway premier in 2004, starring Brooklyn College alumnus Jimmy Smits, '80.
Performances of Two Sisters and a Piano will be held on
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2
p.m., from October 21 to 31. (There will be no Thursday evening performance
on October 28.) Ticket prices are $12 general admission, $10 for senior
citizens, and $5 for Brooklyn College students (with validated ID). For
more information, call the Brooklyn Center box office, (718) 951-4500,
or visit the Theater
Department Web page.