By Diana SaengerStaging a world premiere production is rare for small theater company, but is the privilege of Solana Beach’s North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT), with playwright Melinda Lopez’s war drama, “Becoming Cuba.” Commissioned by Jenie and Vin Altruda for NCRT the entertaining epic is directed by David Ellenstein, and runs through June 23.
“Becoming Cuba” is set in Havana during the winter of 1897-1898, an intense time of war between Cuba and Spain. Adela (Eileen Faxas) runs a pharmacy there and is desperately trying to keep her and her half-sister Martina (Maritxell Carrero) alive in a country boiling over with political problems. Adela already mourns the loss of her beloved loyalist husband, and worries about her half-brother Manny (Steven Lone), a rebel, who is away fighting for their country.
New York reporter Davis (Richard Baird) has chosen her pharmacy as his sanctuary from which to pen his newspaper column. It upsets him that Adela will not even read the paper, while Martina scours it but misses the important parts.
Times are tough and sales at the pharmacy are scarce. When Fancy (Catalina Maynard) makes a visit to pick up medicine for her ailments, Martina swirls around her like a bee to honey. She showers Fancy with praises about her complexion, while stealing the woman’s white gloves.
Adela is appalled by Martina’s action, especially since Fancy is the wife of Spanish Captain Isidore (Mark Pinter). He’s a belligerent, controlling captain, who at one point, nearly ends Adela’s operation of the pharmacy.
When Manny stumbles into the pharmacy half-dead, injured, bedraggled and hungry, the intensity of the story heats up. Will he be discovered? Will Davis be able to thwart Martina’s advances when he has his eyes on Adela? Will the ragamuffin Chucho (David Coffey) be the undoing of the pharmacy? Will Adela and Martina stop Manny from returning to war?
These questions are artfully asked and answered in Lopez’s heartfelt, creative script. It’s part history, somewhat of a romance and definitely an intriguing drama. Adding other interesting points of view, are two ghostly spirits — a Conquistador (Pinter) and an inspirational revolutionary (Maynard) who bring both threats and fun to the story’s unraveling.
The cast is excellent providing both laughter and tense moments. Baird and Pinter are becoming excellent heavyweights in NCRT productions. Lone brings a Jimmy Smitts persona to his role in terms of believability. Faxas presents a strong take on Adela, a woman who can only stand her ground so long. Carrero is an adorable, feisty spitfire, who seems one- dimensional until destiny arrives. Coffey and Maynard play their roles earnestly.
As usual, the set design by Marty Burnett is superb, keeping us within the confines of the pharmacy, but letting us see the horrors of war unfold there as well.
If you go■ What: ‘Becoming Cuba’
■ When: Matinees, evenings to June 23
■ Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
■ Tickets: $37-$54
■ Box Office: (858) 481-1055