REVIEW: “Cuba and His Teddy Bear”

Chilling and tragic examination of father-son dynamics

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UrbanTheater and People*s Theater of Chicago presents:

Cuba and His Teddy Bear

by Reinaldo Povod
directed by Marilyn Camancho
thru December 13th (ticket info)

review by Oliver Sava

Joseph-CubaA family drama in unfolding at Humboldt Park’s Batey Urbano (map), the storefront theater currently home to the midwest premiere of Reinaldo Povod’s Cuba and His Teddy Bear. At the heart of the dysfunction is Cuba (Madrid St. Angelo), a small time drug dealer, and Teddy (Christian Kane Blackburn), Cuba’s artistic son with a major monkey on his back. When Cuba’s friend Jackie (Hank Hilbert) unloads two pounds of marijuana on the pair, drug dealing becomes family bonding, but it’s only a matter of time before things go to hell. The buyer that Teddy has lined up, heroin addict/Tony award winning playwright Che (Julian Martinez), has no intention of paying for the product, and he’s brought along the Dealer (Kamal Han), a stickup artist who walks with a skull-adorned cane due to of an abscess in his leg from repeated injections.

If your character is in the title of the play, you better be damn good. Luckily, St. Angelo and Blackburn are. The success of the production hinges on the relationship of these two characters, and the two actors have great chemistry that comes from having truly explored the circumstances of these characters. St. Madrid plays Cuba with equal parts concerned family man and dangerous drug dealer, creating an incredibly realistic portrait of a father trying to do the best he can with the limited skills he has. Cuba tells Teddy that if he wants to do drugs he can just ask him and they’ll do them together. He wants his son to become a federal agent because it’s good, honest work. Cuba sees the potential in his son and when he sees it being extinguished it drives him to the edge of sanity; the play’s climax is a tense standoff between father and son that ends in a gunshot and a flood of tears.

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Blackburn’s Teddy has an introverted intensity throughout Act I that hints at the character’s secret shame, and watching him confront his demons in Act II is heartbreaking. He grooms his father with a gentle touch that is both tender yet unnerving, and the character’s willingness to throw away his future in exchange for human affection is fully realized by Blackburn, especially in the scene with Martinez’s Che. Martinez, dressed like a pachuco with two huge black circles around his eyes, is wonderfully menacing and tragic, content with living on a Central Park bench and exploiting the emotions of misguided youth so he can score. When Teddy tells Che, "You should come to me because you want to see me, not because you want to get high," the audience knows that will never be the case, and so does Teddy, but he clings to his desires in the face of utter futility.

The biggest flaw with the production is the length – the playwright’s ambitious script packs so much material in two and a half hours that the weight begins to slow down the pace and lessens the casts energy. The show could use about a half hour of cutting, but the ensemble that director Marilyn Camancho has assembled captures the gritty intensity of Povod’s script, resulting in a chilling examination of father-son and dealer-junkie dynamics.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Production Personnel

Playwright:  Reinaldo Povod
Director: Marilyn Camacho
Production Manager:  K. Estela Rivera
Light Design: Richard Ebeling 
Set Design: Jorge Felix
Costume Design: Carol Karaguez 
Stage Manager:  Alex St.John
Photos: Anthony Acairdi 
Cast: Christian Kain Blackburn, Kamal Hans, Hank Hilbert, Erynn Mackenzie, Julian Martinez, Alex Polcyn, Edgar Sanchez, Madrid St. Angelo, Ivan Vega

 

 

 

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