The sound of wind blowing and music rolling is what comes to mind when I think of the Caribbean islands — white sand beaches and heat melting, while your body moves to the sound of everyone’s favorite sing-along song. There’s a sense of loose enjoyment that comes with the Latin rhythm; there’s no rush, no technological addictiveness. There’s just laughter and sprit. So when I heard that an internationally-acclaimed Cuban group was coming to Chicago, I wanted to be immersed in the Caribbean wave.
The Cubans were expected to be in on Sunday. Monday they were to go to a White Sox game, during which Sandor – one of the younger members of the group – was to be reunited with his childhood friend, Alexie. I wouldn’t be able to see them until the next day.
Tuesday was finally here. My breath was stiff and my eyes wide. My job was to translate Spanish to English and English to Spanish. This was no problem for me, but having lived in Chicago for so long, it had been a while since I had put my bilingual tongue to the test. Finally the moment had arrived and… and … and… they weren’t not here. I looked over to my supervisor and jokingly told him, “it’s typical of Latinos to show up late. We run on our own time.” The joke quickly evaporated into the air. It took what seemed like hours for us to get back on track with tech. But then they slowly arrived at the theatre: first the production manager and lighting designer, later the director, playwright and actors. The pieces of this jigsaw puzzle were finally coming into place. Little did I know that this group of people would later take a piece of me back to Cuba.
The days of tech that came seemed endless: 12 hour days, with breaks here and there, which seemed to be the rest notes giving us all a time to catch our breath before we went to the next note. The pressure seemed to be getting to everyone by the final day of tech, which was also opening night. The details were endless and we stopped for every little thing. Instead of working through the play and later giving notes, the director had her own way of perfection and that was to correct things, in the moment. I was amazed that anyone could have the patience to work in this manner. Being a younger, admiring director, I took all this in. Surprisingly, it worked for this group. We never got in a full run of the show, but somehow – with the director’s magic perfectionism and the actors’ amazingly quick ability to adapt – they ran that show as though it had been in previews for a week and today was its grand opening.
Throughout this whole process, I have experienced nothing but amazement. How can you run a show for two, three, five years and not get tired of it? Or if you do, how do you, as an artist, find the energy to give the play a new life every night? “We just do,” a bunch of them later told me. “We just do.” I thought, most impressive to have that kind of attitude. “We just do.” There’s no resentment; there’s just the sense of routine – a sense this is what I do.
The show finally opened and ran its course, and for the couple nights that I was there it was breathtaking. Not just the production, but the environment – the energy that people brought with them into the theatre. And whether or not you thought this was one of the best productions you have ever seen, you can’t deny how much fun it was, how different it was, how cool it was that you got to see a piece of island magic.
There are plenty of reviews and articles about La Visita de la Vieja Dama, so I will spare you a long chat on the subject matter. But know that it is a story about a women who is ostracized from her hometown at a young age and returns back as a rich widow, seeking ”justice” on the man she once loved. (He was the reason she was beaten and thrown out of the town in the first place.) But the storyline is just the surface, and what it represents is so much deeper. In the end it teaches us about the ultimate question of choice; who we are, what we choose to be, and how we choose to treat others are actions that can be louder than words. And my favorite line is, “the only faithful people in life are the dead.” These are just a few things I took away from the production, along with its political messages, musical numbers, and crazy costume changes. From tech to performance, La Visita was a show that I will never forget.