The Cuban Revolution long ago took the stage play away from the people.
Producers began censoring theater productions and eliminating plots that contravened the government’s interpretation of history.
So, theatergoers had to turn to films.
No fewer than six Hollywood films have been translated into Spanish. They portray Fidel Castro and the struggle against the United States, which was the country’s primary enemy until 1997.
And now Cuba is updating those plays for its own audience. As economic and political tensions have increased between the US and Cuba, production companies have collaborated with Cuban theater groups and have translated and enhanced the content of the plays.
Raul Castro, Cuba’s president
Such collaborations were first reported by Writers Without Borders , a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to “demystifying and supporting the role of storytellers.” The group confirmed the work of Untitled of Havana and Havana Youth Theater, among others.
The adaptations were designed to satisfy American critics and audiences.
Though full productions have been staged in Cuba, the sales of U.S. travel licenses to travelers wanting to make the trek to the island have been suspended, making it difficult for the Cuban companies to bring the works to life.
As Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader known as the “Grandfather of the Revolution,” died in November 2016, “the Florida coast was like a wound,” Ignacio Bustamante Guillén, a Cuban writer and director, told Verso magazine.
‘He threw us out, and we didn’t return to the Cuban countryside’
Written in the 1930s, “The Night of the Rain Birds” was among the first adaptations of English plays that had been produced on the island, according to writer Ernesto Rico of Granma.
The play depicts the rise and fall of Cuba’s rebellion and draws its inspiration from Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel “Don Quixote.”
“It isn’t about a revolutionary government — it’s just about what happens in the night when you’re going after the thing that caused your country pain,” said Panama’s Luis Lopez Gonzalez, a theater director and writer.
But because the changes are being made without the original author’s permission, critics of the government say they are misleading the Cuban audience.
“It’s OK if you do a play about, say, Cholera [a fatal virus],” Lopez Gonzalez said. “The difference between Cholera and Fidel Castro is that he threw us out, and we didn’t return to the Cuban countryside.”
No modern classics
Only two of Cuba’s original plays were ever translated into English.
In 1987, Jean Anouilh’s “The Maids” and Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” were placed in a cast of characters that nearly all adhered to the government’s narrative of the Revolution, said Guillén.
That the play itself had not been translated into English until six years later highlights a larger issue, critics say. Many Cubans consider the classic Spanish plays “sublime,” said Jonathan D. Kaplan, professor of Cuban Studies at Columbia University.
In contrast, in the past month, television has beamed images of a prisoner’s escape from the Guantanamo Bay military prison to millions of viewers around the world. On-screen, the prisoner is seen on a jet carping about U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Video screenshot by Nona Pelaez/CNN
“The night they uploaded the pictures, you see people shivering on the streets of Cuba’s major cities. Not because they were cold, but because that’s what the supreme power of the country would like to show the world,” Kaplan said.
Last month, Cuba also allowed the first United States-sponsored theatrical production in Havana in five years, and the broadcast of Fidel Castro’s speech denouncing Trump.
A production company and Havana Youth Theater have produced a one-woman show that defies the censorship by reviving some of Cuba’s best-known literature, according to historians.
Is this the exception, or the rule?
Politicians in the US and across Latin America, however, are treading carefully because “there are many more wars that need to be fought,” Kaplan said.