Cuban Theater Digital Archive

Letters from Cuba

Directing team: +

Name Function(s)
María Irene Fornés Director

Design team: +

Name Function(s)
Donald Eastman Set designer
Mathew Frey Light designer
Kurt B. Kellenberger Sound/Soundtrack Designer
Teresa Snider-Stein Costume designer

Production team: +

Name Function(s)
Signature Theatre Company Producer

Bibliography: +

Notes: +

“Letters From Cuba”: The Critical Response

(This document was composed by Harrison Hill as part of an advanced seminar on María Irene Fornes held in the Department of Drama, New York University, Spring 2008.)

     The reviews for “Letters From Cuba” were generally favorable. [1] Most found the production’s lyrical and meditative tone alluring, and deemed the play a fitting reflective moment to Fornes’ season and career. Bruce Weber of the New York Times called the play “a lovely and contemplative autobiographical morsel.” He commends the production for conveying, “with gentle humor that is occasionally exquisite, the procession of separate lives being led in spiritual togetherness but spatial disconnect.” Several other reviewers latched on to this sentiment, remarking that the connection between Cuba and New York was expertly communicated. Ed Morales, for example, notes in American Theatre, “‘Letters from Cuba’ confronts the divide between Cuba and exile gently, with soft reminiscences, physical comedy and nostalgia.”

     Weber calls the show “a happy-sad sigh,” a description consistent across the boards. Scott T. Cummings adds in Performance Review, “‘Letters from Cuba’ is more a theatre poem than a play, a gossamer of words, music, movement, and light that reaches a simple, subtle epiphany.” Back Stage concurs: “‘Letters from Cuba’… is a beautiful tone poem about longing and fear.”

     Many found this ephemeral sense of lightness and contemplation particularly apparent in the character of Fran. Caridad Svich (herself a student of Fornes) says in PAJ that Fran’s “body is her text, and through it we see a whole life, a history of yearning and buried pain.”

     The physical production received similar praise. Michael Feingold of the Village Voice applauds the “cunning set” that is “evocatively lit.” Time Out New York remarks, “[e]very article of clothing in this perfectly elegant production is simple and chic; the same is true of set designer Donald Eastman’s spare Manhattan apartment, topped by a Havana rooftop, and Matthew Frey’s vibrant, golden lighting… I can’t remember a better-looking production.”

     In something of a rare coincidence, “Letters from Cuba” opened in New York at about the same time as two other Cuban plays: Nilo Cruz’s “Two Sisters and a Piano” (at the Public Theater) and Esther Suarez’s “Baños Públicos, Sociedad Anónima” (at Repertorio Español). Critics used this unusual moment as an opportunity to write about Cuban/Latino theater in general. Feingold, for example, writes: “Both Cruz and Fornes find ways to evoke the many facets of the Cuban paradox: On one hand, the lush fruit and tropical foliage, the scented air, the contemplative ease and graciousness of daily life even after decades of oppression and embargo. On the other, the fear, the aching shortages, the futile drudgery, the bureaucratic brutality and apathy that seem to have been imported from Russia along with the erratic auto parts and the volumes of Marx.”

     Those who didn’t enjoy the production faulted the direction and petty content. Variety, in the play’s least favorable major review, compares it to a melodramatic TV show: “Unfortunately, its 60-minute length isn’t the only thing Fornes’ play has in common with a ‘Felicity’ episode; it’s also just as slight in content.” Overall, however, most critics used their reviews as platforms to praise the Signature season and Fornes’ work in general.

[1] For complete citations, see “Bibliography.”


Author: Harrison Hill and Maurya Scanlon (New York University, Seminar on Fornes, Spring 2008); Ariel Stutzman (2009-04-30)

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