Volume 75, Number 21 | October 12 - 18, 2005

Theater

“KISSING FIDEL”
by Eduardo Machado
Directed by Michael John Garcés
An Intar production through October 23
Kirk Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
212-279-4200

Sex and Loathing in ‘Kissing Fidel’

By Jerry Tallmer

Photo by Carol Rosegg
Where’s the love? Actors Bryant Mason (left), Javier Rivera (right) and Andres Munar (on ground) exchange harsh words in Eduardo Machado’s “Kissing Fidel.”
Eduardo Machado has done it this time. In “Kissing Fidel,” his 44th play (depending how you count), set in Miami in 1994, everybody has had sexual relations with everybody else, male, female, or otherwise. Brothers with brothers, cousins with cousins, aunts with whoever. And everybody hates Fidel Castro with a passion.

Everybody except Oscar – “a novelist in his 40s” – who wants to go to Havana and kiss Castro. He’s kissed a lot of other men. But that isn’t what he means.

“I have this tape recorder in my head filled with their voices,” Oscar says of his crazy aunts, uncles, parents. “They never stop,” he says to his cousin Daniel. “Their stupidity, their greed, their libido. And what they lost. The island. Like a movie that’s always playing … with a million reels that never end … round and round it plays … and I write and write, run and run.”

“Well, I would like to meet Castro someday,” says Eduardo Machado, a playwright in his early 50s who was spirited out of Cuba by his family like a Peter Pan airlifted child at age 8. “I don’t know about kissing him. I would like to meet and talk with him. I don’t mean forgive him– I don’t think there’s anything to forgive.”

Machado is saying this on a couch in the second-floor lobby of the Theater Row complex, where “Kissing Havana” is at the Kirk through October 23.

“I once sat three rows behind him at the Havana Film Festival in 2000. As a kid of 6 I met him, and Ché, and a couple of other ones, in Solimar, the fishing village where Hemingway hung out and I grew up. This must have been 1959.

“That was before Castro won the revolution and went to meet Eisenhower, and they [Ike’s people] told him: ‘You’re a punk, go fuck yourself.’ And that was also before my grandfather, my mother’s father, Oscar Hernandez, who had liked Fidel, turned against him because the next thing Castro did was nationalize transportation, including my grandfather’s bus company.”

Eduardo Machado, who is a person of some weight, dramatically, intellectually, and otherwise, gave a small smile of gratitude as he said: “Both my grandmothers are alive: one’s 99, the other’s 101. One lives in California, the other lives in Miami, and they’re still kicking, both mentally and physically.”

Their grandson last year added the duties of artistic director of INTAR, the Hispanic theater company, to those as head of Columbia University’s Graduate Playwriting Department. When the University of Miami set about collecting all his stuff, he “actually sat down and counted,” and it came out as 44 plays to date, “around 30 long and 14 short,” including such beautiful pieces as “Cuba and the Night,” “Havana Is Waiting,” and “The Cook.”

 Though it’s just reached the boards, “Kissing Fidel” isn’t really No. 44, chronologically, because it was first written back in 1997.

“Then I completely rewrote it, last December, and got rid of five characters. Karen Kondazian [the actress who now plays Aunt Miriam] was very interested in doing it in Los Angeles. I said: ‘Okay, but I don’t like some things in it,’ so I started rewriting, and as I rewrote it came to life for me. So here’s a new rule: You should put plays away for four [or more] years.” (The Los Angeles production has yet to happen.)

Yes, those people in the play are members of his own family, by and large, under different names. And yes, they are all in real life—including the formidable “Aunt Miriam”—still alive.

“I think they love me. I think they realize it’s given them a place in literature. Have they disowned me? No. I think that after 26 years they have come to see that the characters in my plays are obviously not completely them. I didn’t sleep with my aunt,” says the Machado who has slept with a number of other persons.

 
YOLANDA [another, slightly younger aunt in “Kissing Fidel”]: Are you going to marry again, Oscar?
 
OSCAR: No.
 
YOLANDA: Did your wife break your heart?

OSCAR: I broke hers.
 
YOLANDA: How?
 
OSCAR: I left her for a man.
 
“That is true,” says the Eduardo who is Oscar. “I was married when young. Seventeen years.”

And left her for a man?

“Yes.”

Is he still around in your life?

“No.”

He points to some good prints on the opposite wall. “That’s my sister Gilda’s art.’

What about all the sex in this play?

“Some of it is true, some of it is fiction.”

 Even Oscar’s father having slept in the past with his own brother, Oscar’s uncle?

“Certainly you don’t write about that unless it’s inside you, somewhere.”

It all comes back, for Eduardo Machado, to politics and ideology. “They’re all so self-involved in every way with each other, they can’t see the reality about Cuba all around them.”

Eduardo thinks he can.

“Yes, I do. I’ve stepped away in a very, very big way for a very long time now.”

Back in 1963, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the heels of the Bay of Pigs, “the Cubans” became a classification of craziness. Ten years later, with Watergate, again “the Cubans” and craziness. And since. As if they’re all crazy, the Castro haters.

“They are. Crazy with regret,” says Machado, “and crazy for revenge. Two things very hard to deal with.”

Like the Bourbons of pre-Revolutionary France? Of whom it was said: They never forget and they never forgive.

“Right. And with the Cubans, their children also. A young mother came to this play,” says Machado. “She came away weeping and saying: ‘My uncle was killed by Fidel.’ I said to the person who told me: ‘But did her uncle work for Batista? A bigger bastard than Castro.’”

This journalist reminds Eduardo that back a few years ago when we were talking about “Cuba and the Night,” he said: “I think I write plays over and over again to try to figure out how I feel about Fidel.”

Machado broke up. He almost giggled. “No truer words were ever spoken,” he said.

Okay, Eduardo, back to the old drawing board. Play No. 45 is out there—in there–waiting.

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