Playwright Eduardo Machado is a Cuban native who moved to the United States at nine years old, but as the saying goes, even though they took the boy out of Cuba, no one could take Cuba out of the boy.
Machado is now the Head of Playwriting in the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and in addition to being a prolific playwright he is coauthor of the food memoir Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home. Regardless of his success, the plight of Machado's beautiful home country has never been far from his thoughts. His newest play, Mariquitas, is, like so many of his plays, set in Cuba, specifically in a gay-friendly bed-and-breakfast in Old Havana. Machado spoke to TheaterMania about the play's themes of love and power.
The last time I went to Cuba, I was staying in a house like that house in the play, and I thought the characters there would make an interesting play.
Why is Cuba a topic that you keep returning to?
I think Cuba, in a way, represents people who are completely alienated from the world, and I find that a fascinating subject. And because when you come here when you're a little kid like I did, sort of forced to come here because of political circumstances, I think it haunts you for the rest of your life and you keep coming back to it. And you know, because it's still in the same place it was 50 years ago. The embargo is still going on. There's no movement between the United States and Cuba, and I think you have to remind people of that.
How is this play different from your other plays about Cuba?
Most of my plays are about women, and this play is mostly about men. The only other play I've written that's about men is called Havana is Waiting, which was produced off-Broadway in 2001 and [by] the Actors Theatre of Louisville [at the Cherry Lane Theatre]. I think that's the main difference. I'm allowing men to be the poetic part of my play [when] usually I give that to the women.
What was it like to write so many male characters if you're used to writing females?
It was hard! That summer that I was there, I went around listening to people's conversations and writing them down, which I never do. So I was staying in Montauk and had time and thought, I'm gonna write this play. And then I sent it out, right, and my last play The Cook had been a big hit, and no one wanted to do it.
And one of the artistic directors wrote me this impassioned e-mail about it and how much it moved him and then he said to me, "I don't know what to tell you, Eduardo, maybe they'll do it in Germany." And I started laughing and just thought, how can theater be so provincial?
In the play, the character of Mariela Castro is sort of grey. Is that the way you feel about her?
I met Mariela once at a party. And I read about her all the time because I find her trying to have human rights come to Cuba really fascinating, especially since her father was the person who did start camps to put homosexuals in, in the eighties. I find that really intriguing.
In my brief interaction with her, I thought she was the greatest politician I'd seen since Clinton. But she's still royalty there. She still gets to talk to the Pope. I think she's trying to do good things, but I don't know if it's just so that they can keep their power. So I guess that's the part about her that I don't quite trust.
How do you want your audience to come away thinking and feeling?
My goal is always, and why I keep writing plays about Cuba is, that we end the embargo because it's only hurting the Cuban people. Havana is Waiting is about someone going back to Cuba — very much about me. And at the first preview at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the audience gave it a standing ovation. They told me things like, "We didn't know the embargo was about people." But all embargoes are about people. Not government. And they affect people on a very deep level.
That's what I want people to come away with. "Why have we kept this place completely isolated when we borrow money from China? And Vietnam, we all go there on vacation. Why have we kept this shut down?" That is the big question of my life.
Why do you think it is that the embargo hasn't ended yet?
It's a cockfight. Cuba belonged to America and when they lost it under Bautista, they couldn't believe they lost it. Then they tried to kill Castro for thirty years and instead they made him stronger. And the embargo makes him stronger. And there's a lot of powerful Cubans that make sure it stays in place. I mean Nixon was ruled by Charles Rebozo, who was a Cuban, who made sure it stayed in place. And so were the Bushes, because the Cubans got Jed Bush to be governor of Florida. So it's a big macho fight.
What audience do you imagine yourself writing for?
Americans. My plays get done everywhere in America. Because I think ultimately my plays are human. People become attracted to them on a human level. Someone told me the other day, "The play is about not believing you can be loved." And I went, "Yeah, in many ways it is about that."