The Spanish-language debut of Hortensia y el museo de sueños, produced by Arca Images, draws its power from some of Miami’s most talented stage actors. This troupe’s got chops, and it takes a bite out of a richly crafted script written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, who also directs.
Originally written in English, Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams debuted in 2001 at New Theatre, currently at the Roxy Performing Arts Center. Here, at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s OnStage Black Box theater, it is thoughtfully translated by Alberto Sarraín, whose version brings a lot of Cuban verve to the script.
The play, which has English supertitles and runs a little over two hours with intermission, follows the parallel journeys of Lucas and Luciana, a brother and sister who return to Cuba during the 1998 Papal visit after an almost 40-year absence. As children, the two were sent unaccompanied to the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan, an exodus of Cuban children at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.
As was the case for many children, Lucas and Luciana ended up in an orphanage for what remained of their childhood. The siblings also harbor a dark, secret attraction for one another that binds and repels the estranged siblings. This is the emotional backdrop as the play opens on two psychologically damaged adults, hoping to find redemption in Cuba.
In the first scene, we see Lucas (Raul Durán) and Luciana (Grettel Trujillo) as children, each one clutching a diary and a suitcase. These symbols reappear throughout the play, underscoring the idea of travel as a deeply personal and intimate experience. Grettel Trujillo is magnetic as Luciana, a woman who is guarded and weary. In Cuba though, Luciana reveals a childlike, vulnerable side to her personality. Trujillo plays the complex role with a straightforward simplicity that allows the emotions to come through fluidly and not become mired in melodrama.
As Lucas, Raul Durán’s sorrow sometimes feels a bit forced. His character’s turmoil is most convincing and palpable when it slips out unexpectedly during his romantic encounters with Delita, a vivacious Cuban woman he meets on the Malecon.
Hortensia possesses a balance of gravity and levity that speaks to the breadth and depth of Cruz’s vision as playwright. Themes of childhood trauma and disillusion are complemented with moments of laughter and hope. Reina Ivis is fantastic as Delita, a woman prone to fits of laughter and histrionics. Likewise, Ariel Texidó and Roberto San Martín are hilarious as Samuel and Basilio, Hortensia’s grown sons. Their boyish crushes on Luciana and fraternal bickering bring humor to the stage.
At the center of it all is Hortensia, a woman who wants to convince the Pope (and the world) of the sanctity of the miracles she’s collected in her museum. Veteran actress Martha Picanes brilliantly delivers a matriarchal figure whose mysticism is fueled by faith and ferocity.
Gerardo Riverón rounds out the cast with vivid portrayals of the sibling’s long lost uncle and an embittered Cuban bureaucrat.
Twelve years after its Miami debut, Hortensia is still a powerful play and these actors do it justice.