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THE NEW YORK TIMES
'Vieques': No Man's an Island, All Are Islanders
By D. J. R. BRUCKNER
February 22, 2001
Vieques," the play, is not about what you might think it would be. No warships tearing up the turf with target practice. No civilian protesters against the Navy being forcibly removed from the little island just east of Puerto Rico. No noble poor islanders being dispossessed by a brutal superpower.
Jorge González, the playwright, takes us back 50 years to the time when American sailors were newcomers to Vieques, setting up a base and practicing assaults on the beaches. We never see them, except in the imaginations of eight natives of the island. That's enough. Reality could never match what these people can dream up; after all, every Latin American knows more about conquest and occupation than we ever will. To the Viequesinos, even Puerto Rico is a big crowded place where you can trust no one, and San Juan is a moral cesspool. So, when it comes to gringos, who own the world, well, what are you to make of people who think fried potatoes are tastier than beans and rice?
But the isolated are far from innocent in this sharp comedy. Julio (Ricardo Barber), middle-aged, is a political realist ("the sailors will stay as long as they like and leave only when they want to"), but worries incessantly that one of the intruders will lay hands on his young daughter, Sylvia (Bettina Mercado). His wife, Lola (Tatiana Vecino), is determined to look hardheaded but is shocked when her fabulously inventive suspicions about everyone turn out to be true. Her sister, Marta (Miriam Cruz), is sure God's in his heaven and all's right with the world, except when a rich avocado harvest attracts hurricanes.
As for her son, Miguel (Indio Meléndez), he's a 32-year-old sot who's not above stealing from all his relatives to buy rum and who sits in his mother's lap when he's drunk. He is a mere baby next to Roberto (Lucio Fernández), Julio's son from a previous marriage, who went to San Juan and made good by robbing a bank. At first sight, Ivan, a nephew of Julio and Lola, appears to be a cut above all this, having been to college and acquired ideas that, because they are different, strike everyone else as Marxist. But it turns out he has made Sylvia's best friend, Josefina (Milena Pérez), pregnant, and he flees the island when he finds out. As for Sylvia, Julio need not have worried so much; she is by far the strictest of the lot when it comes to morals not that that stops her from falling in love with one of the sailors.
Obviously, in this kind of situation, the plot can wander occasionally, but that hardly matters. These very distinct and strong characters, given to an earthy expression of their opinions (not all of which come through with full force in the simultaneous translation from Spanish), in every line reveal more of themselves than they intend. In the end it is that revelation of how complicated they are, for all their simplicity, that makes their hopes and fears get inside you. They never have to wonder aloud about the future of their island or express anger about the American forces all around them. When Sylvia finally announces she intends to marry her sailor and go with him to North Carolina, Lola cries out, "Julio, our daughter is marrying the enemy!" You have to laugh. But Lola means it. The last word is simply a reminder that this amusing play has a much sharper bite than you realize until you stop laughing and let the whole experience sink in.
Under the direction of Alfredo Galván, this cast delivers the kind of ensemble performance one expects in productions by Repertorio Español, one that is a compliment to the audience as much as to the playwright.
By Jorge González
Directed by Alfredo Galván
Video production by Carlos (Abi) Torres and Eduardo Rosado
Voice-overs, Nancy Millán and Frankie Miranda
Sound by Mr. Miranda
English translation by Mr. González
Assistant to the director, Mariá Cristina Fusté
Production design by Robert Weber Federico
Presented by Repertorio Español, Gilberto Zaldívar, executive producer;
At the Gramercy Arts Theater, 138 East 27th Street, Manhattan.
WITH: Ricardo Barber (Julio)