restricted access Chapter 2. Havana Is (Not) Waiting: Staging the Impasse in Cuban American Drama about Cuba’s Special Period
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73 Chapter 2 Havana Is (Not) Waiting: Staging the Impasse in Cuban American Drama about Cuba’s Special Period At a talk back after a matinee performance of Eduardo Machado’s Kissing Fidel, I asked Michael John Garcés about his experience of directing the play, which had an unsettling feel. In contrast to the set, which depicted the lobby of a funeral home with well-​ appointed seats, an elegant coffee machine, and a wall of red roses, the experience of Kissing Fidel was neither restful nor calming . Garcés revealed that the way he created the frenetic feel of the play was to never let the actors sit down for more than a few seconds whenever they were onstage.1 The effect was a jittery but caged movement where everyone moved, but no one went anywhere. Kissing Fidel’s tremulous movement was different in pace than points of departure, but the feeling of getting nowhere in confined space despite constant attempts to escape resonated deeply. Both plays, quite simply, made me feel quite tense, while stopping short of making me feel any particular emotions for the characters: an affective mélange. Playwright and director Michael John Garcés has the distinction of having directed all of Cuban American playwright Eduardo Machado’s three full-​ length plays about Special Period Cuba: Havana Is Waiting (2001), The Cook (2003), and Kissing Fidel (2005) in the lead up to finalizing points of departure in spring 2006. Thus, despite the fact that as writers Machado and Garcés could not be more different—­ Garcés’s plot-​ resistant sparse poeticism is as far from Machado’s baroque and sentimental Ibsenism as it could be—­ because Garcés directed them, Machado’s and Garcés’s plays feel similar. Garcés’s experience directing a production of Nilo Cruz’s A Bicycle Country in 2000 only deepened his connection to the depiction of movement of the Special Period. Going backward from departure into Garcés’s choreography of the Special Period reveals how U.S.-​ authored theater about this era in Cuba attenuates affect in the present as a neoliberal condition. This turn of phrase, of course, comes from Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, as does my theorization of the impasse. 74 Chapter 2 Cruel Optimism is a tour de force in affect studies and an important work of neoliberal critique that engages U.S. and European cultural production articulating the failed promises of late liberal capitalism. Berlant’s assertion that the (neoliberal) historical is felt affectively before it is understood in any other way is an especially fruitful observation for thinking about Latinx theater under neoliberalism, particularly Cuban America drama. Cuban American drama seems to be an odd place to introduce Berlant’s theorization given the very different historical circumstances within which Cuba has developed as a socialist exception to neoliberal capital. Yet, Cuba has not entirely exiled itself from capital in the last twenty years, making Berlant’s observations all the more relevant. None of the plays in this chapter mention neoliberalism by name, but all of them render neoliberal experience, particularly postrevolutionary neoliberal experience, vividly in how they move and feel. Instead of our pain coming from cyclical reactions to a singular traumatic event in the past, today’s affective reality is an attenuated low-​ level reaction to a continued anxiety-​ provoking set of conditions in the Americas . This is what Berlant calls a “crisis ordinariness” that features constant battles to survive, increased militarization of borders, and attempts to move on to somewhere where conditions might change (but might not).2 Berlant’s departure from trauma theory, with its dependence on wounding events, is instructive because it suggests that our reaction to changed economic and political opportunities has a different durational reality. Berlant’s objects of study are very different from those considered in this book. She concentrates on film and novels from the United States and Europe, both of which formerly enjoyed wealthy welfare states. Thus, most of her subjects suffer under the demise of formerly functioning infrastructure, a luxury of loss many Latinx Americans know little about. Berlant does not consider cultural production by U.S. Latinx persons or Latin Americans nor does she wrestle with the particular legacies of colonialism they render. She also does not engage theater in any way in the book. In fact, her grasp on theatricality is metaphorical rather than methodological. When she uses the language of method acting it is outside of the...


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