Alfonso Rey, Sandor Juan  and Hannia Guillen
in Probation
(© Michael Palma)
Alfonso Rey, Sandor Juan and Hannia Guillen
in Probation
(© Michael Palma)
Greed and duplicity derail a Cuban man's dream of a better life in the U.S. for himself, girlfriend, and unborn child in Yoshvani Medina's Probation at Repertorio Español, which has the potential to both tap the hearts and minds of theatergoers. But despite a trio of fine performances, and the kinetic staging the playwright has given his work, thin plotting and reliance on narration through monologue undermine the promise of the play, performed in Spanish, with simultaneous translation available via individualized screens at each seat.

There's little doubt that audiences will find themselves initially drawn in by Probation, as Medina introduces Freddy (Sandor Juan), a 30-something cartographer, who, with the assistance of an old friend of his father's, Pancho (Alfonso Rey), plans to leave Cuba. Pancho, who already lives in Miami, is helping Freddy because of a promise he made as the younger man's father was dying in battle in Cuba.

Freddy takes some of Pancho's assistance, but not all of the older man's advice. For instance, rather than flying into the U.S., Freddy pilots a small boat to this country. Similarly, despite Pancho's insistence that he come by himself, Freddy brings Yenny (Hanna Guillén), his pregnant girlfriend, who's an aspiring comedienne and satirical writer. Freddy's stubbornness also extends, initially, to Pancho's offer of assistance in setting him up with a job, but ultimately, Freddy relents, and agrees to become head of a shady clinic, a move which proves to be his undoing.

It's a richly conceived tale, but Medina's reliance on monologues -- generally letters or emails that the younger characters send or Pancho's imagined conversations with his old compatriot -- undercut the piece's dramatic impact. Further, Medina has only sketched in some of the play's most important details, such as why Freddy eventually accepts the job at the clinic which he surprisingly knows upfront is a sham. Additionally, other aspects of the plot -- such as the actual impact that Yenny's public criticism of the older Cuban refugees in Miami has on herself and her husband -- are frustratingly ambiguous.

Thankfully, the performers turn in fiercely committed and consistently engaging performances, particularly Juan, who imbues Freddy with a terrific combination of eagerness, naiveté, shrewdness and warmth. Similarly, Guillén proves to be a comic, sexy spitfire, making the most of the scenes in which Yenny shares her acerbic (and funny) writing, while Rey's work as Pancho sparks with a compelling blend of paternal kindness and sleaziness.

The production literally glides across the stage thanks to the work of scenic designers Jorge Noa and Pedro Balmaseda who outfit the stage with two rolling units, which are sumptuously lit by lighting designer Robert Weber Feerico, that the actors manipulate to indicate the play's various locations. As director, Medina also puts the units to ingenious work during some of the show's more fantastical scenes -- notably a late confrontation between the three characters where the action swirls into riveting chaos.

This sequence precedes the unnecessary gimmick -- in which audiences choose whether Freddy and Yenny should stay in the U.S. (where's he's facing trial) or return to Cuba -- that concludes the play. Chances are that, as with so much else in this promising but disappointing work, audiences will wish that Medina had made the decision himself.