Sweet and Sour 

Somehow, this thought-provoking Cuban play managed to make it past the censors.

As we head into the holidays armed with more vague warnings from our Head of Homeland Security and watching with dismay as the Middle East implodes, it seems more important than ever that we examine what we're told, question what we believe, and be scrupulously aware of how easily we can be manipulated. None of these questions are new to Cuban writers, one of whom -- Virgilio Pinera -- managed to craft from them a deceptively simple little play that somehow slipped by the censors. Blanco y Negro, which is getting its first English-language production, is a thought-provoking exploration of inflexibility, fanaticism, and what happens when people would sooner fight than acknowledge that they might be wrong about something.

Pinera, like his friend and contemporary Reinaldo Arenas (Before Night Falls), was gay, and all five characters in his Blanco y Negro are male. Two are passionate, totally reactionary lovers, two are more calculated antagonists, and the fifth is a cipher. Director Gina Pulice has chosen to reframe the work so that two of the characters are female, which raises a whole set of issues around gender politics that, while they certainly would have been visible in an all-male cast, are more sharply defined with both women and men on stage. Pulice also plays with status and intention by repeating the same short piece three times (once in Spanish), and while there are some changes to the text between iterations the biggest changes are in time and place (indicated by judicious sound clips, costume changes, and blocking). It's repetitive, but it's not the sort of repetition that hypnotizes the audience or dares them to stay present. Instead, each time something new happens -- the same arguments seen through different lenses (the revolution, Elian Gonzales, the war on the Taliban), which lead us to understand that dichotomous thinking will always leave something out, will always demand that we shut down certain possibilities.

For a short play (about fifty minutes altogether) the actors get to do a lot of traveling -- especially Aldo Pisano and the exceptionally sweet-faced Sandra Garcia Velten as Novio and Novia, young lovers who will eventually crack under the pressure of his insistence that she say what he wants her to. With each iteration Pisano becomes more physically threatening, Velten more assertive -- but they never resolve their differences. Meanwhile Mujer and Hombre (Andrea Day and Adam Chipkin) get into leafletting wars and screaming matches, yet are still able to speak calmly. Perhaps only "adults" can learn to disagree without killing each other? The strength of this play, both in Aaron Krasner's translation and Pulice's direction, is evident in how it works at so many levels -- and implies so many unspeakable questions.


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