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Bryant Mason, Javier Rivera, and Andres Munar
in Kissing Fidel
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
A fascinating play, Eduardo Machado's Kissing Fidel inhabits a world in which family drama reflects the behavior of nations, identity crises are resolved through incestuous pairings, and epileptic seizures are a symbol of religious ecstasy. This is an extraordinarily daring, discomforting, and ambitious work presented by the theater company Intar, of which Machado is artistic director.

The matriarch of the Marques family has passed away and everyone has gathered to pay their respects at a Miami funeral home -- that is, everyone but Oscar, the black sheep of the family. An acclaimed novelist living in New York, Oscar has penned barely disguised autobiographical works that include intimate, suppressed details of the family's lives. He stumbles upon the procession by accident during a one-day stopover in his flight to Havana and announces his plans to go to Cuba to kiss and forgive Fidel Castro. Needless to say, his family is aghast.

As the play progresses, the line between personal life and global politics blurs. In a representative moment that's by turns funny, vicious, and sad, Oscar tells his aunt Miriam why he won't honor his grandmother, who never made an effort to call him while she was alive: "I have an embargo against that room. We don't agree ideologically about life. So I will not enter that room. Till there are no differences between us." His relationship with his father, Osvaldo, is equally icy. (Oscar likens him to Castro.)

In a clan of God-fearing Republicans, Oscar is openly gay and left leaning, which makes him a hero to one closeted family member and reviled by another. But homosexuality isn't the only love that dare not speak its name in this play; quite a few family members lock lips with each other. Is incest just a quirky approach to character development or is it the playwright's unique way of saying that "You can never come home again"? Actually, it's both: Oscar can't make amends with his family life any more than he can begin the healing of his communism-torn country. Still, he repeatedly makes the attempt, testing the limits of forgiveness..

Michael John Garcés directs Kissing Fidel with a lush and surreal style reminiscent of an Almodóvar film. Bryant Mason is arresting as Oscar, from his most vulnerable moments to his strongest, when he confronts his family with truths that they've tried to escape. Karen Kondazian (Miriam) and Judith Delgado (Yolanda) are natural foils as the respectively fiery and stately women of the clan. Javier Rivera is hilarious as Oscar's doting cousin, Daniel. So is Andres Munar as Ismael, the just-off-the-raft, long lost relative with aspirations of being a rap star; and Lazaro Perez plays his unforgiving father with an almost palpable resentment.

The set, designed by Mikiko Suzuki, is gorgeous; the back wall is covered with bright red roses, an opulent chandelier at center stage, and a marble floor. Some may feel that the big ideas communicated and the high comedy make Kissing Fidel a less than fully cathartic experience, but this is still a play that you will talk about long after you've left the theater.

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