The name of Yellow Dream Road, a new play by Cuban playwright Rogelio Orizondo that premiered Thursday in Miami, evokes the classic American fantasy the Wizard of Oz. But this original work is thoroughly Cuban, a journey through a dense, flailing mix of confused identity, political satire and agonized failed dreams — costumed in a surreal blend of U.S. pop and Cuban Santeria imagery.
Yellow Dream Road. is a major collaborative project from Miami-based FUNDarte, a longtime presenter of work from the island. Orizondo, one of Cuba’s most highly regarded and experimental young playwrights, and director Carlos Díaz, head of Havana troupe Teatro El Público, a regular collaborator with FUNDarte, have worked on the play in Miami since last summer. One of the six actors is from the island, while the rest are Cuban-American.
The show is co-presented by the University of Miami, which also supported Orizondo and Díaz’s residency; and with the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, where the play runs through Sunday at the On.Stage Black Box.
In the past, FUNDarte has used projected super-titles for Cuban plays. But for Yellow Dream Road, it is offering non-Spanish speakers audio devices with simultaneous translation. Regardless, the play’s metaphors, imagery and references are so intrinsically Cuban as to make much of Yellow Dream unintelligible to outsiders. They seemed to speak deeply to Thursday’s sold-out audience, however, which reacted vociferously throughout the performance and with a standing ovation at the end.
Yellow Dream Road mixes two sets of personas: Cuba’s patron saint, La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, and others from the Wizard of Oz (and an extended appearance by Peter Pan), sometimes conflated with Santeria deities. They are not characters in any conventional dramatic sense, but emblems of Cuban dilemmas, bitterly rejecting old political fables, lost as they seek new dreams in the United States.
Díaz brings Orizondo’s rush of imagery and language to vivid, intensely physical life, with terrifically committed performances — a sometimes overwhelming combination.
The play begins with Javier Fano, a lithely ferocious actor, rolled over to reveal eyes and mouth painted on his nude back, so that he becomes a living statuette of Elegua, the Santeria deity who opens the way.
La Caridad, represented by different actors in different guises, is not a powerful protective figure, but desperate and confused, lost in watery nightmares — and linked with Oshun, her sensual Santeria counterpart and emblematic here of the seductiveness of Cuba. La Caridad first appears as Osvaldo Doimeadiós (the lone actor from the island), in bulky yellow rain gear and caution tape, clambers out of the sea onto an island, only to flee the hordes seeking protection.
“They were telling me I was their mother,” Doimeadiós says. “I don’t know what justice is or politics or how to be a patron saint.”
Later, Mabel Roch is a Caridad in an elaborate ruffled yellow dress (the wonderful costumes are by Vladimir Cuenca), washed into exile, where she dons red high heels, acquires a Hialeah efficiency and hosts a TV show.
“I’m in favor of all who suffer,” she says. “Everyone who suffers has the right to be right.”
Yet she remains lost in a bad dream, saying, “All I want is to wake up and know who I am.”
The other central figure is Dorothy, played by Alegenis Castillo (alternating with Mabel Valiente) in a poufy gingham dress and red shoes, who first appears desperately spewing a nonsensical stream of Communist (and capitalist) phrases such as “rapid action brigade” and “homeland security.”
“Those who don’t jump are worms,”Castillo repeats, a slogan once used for Cuban state-sponsored demonstrations, as she jumps frantically. Her Wizard of Oz companions also appear: Roch as the Scarecrow; Lili Rentería as a simpering, sexualized Cowardly Lion raped by the “tails” of ominous uncles (a Cuban term for the Castros and Communist political leaders); Doimeadios as the Tin Man/Ogun, the warlike Santeria saint of iron and work, a “worker of intellectual iron” turned to tin.
Later, Castillo is sunny but confused in gringolandia, verbally sparring with Fano as Peter Pan about remembering dreams. Fano, the show’s grotesquely sexual, hip-grinding id, also appears in a Dorothy costume, but he squats to flip his dress up and play with himself, proclaiming that he doesn’t want to hear about any hope over the rainbow from tacky girls.
Yellow Dream Road ends with Rentería as the final Caridad, leading the other Caridads and the two Dorothys to escape into the sea that’s the vehicle for so many desperate balseros.
“I’m not having any more dreams,” Rentería intones. “Don’t wake me up please.”
Dream or nightmare, the seekers in Yellow Dream Road don’t know where to go.
If you go
What: World premiere of ‘Yellow Dream Road’ by Rogelio Orizondo.
Where: On.Stage Black Box at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami.
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday; in Spanish, with simultaneous English translation.
Cost: $25 ($20 students and seniors).