Before winning the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz was little known in this area. Then this past fall, Washington's Arena Stage produced his Pulitzer-winning Anna in the Tropics, and now an earlier play, A Bicycle Country, is receiving a moving Baltimore premiere at Mobtown Players.
Cruz's account of the love, friendship and yearnings for a better life shared by three Cubans in the early 1990s is set partly on land and partly at sea. The first act takes place in the bedroom where one of the friends, Julio, is recovering from a stroke. For the second act, designer Carol Oles stretches expanses of blue fabric in front of and behind the raised platform that served as the bedroom, and the platform becomes the raft on which the characters set off for the United States.
Oles' cleverly convertible set typifies the grace and style that director Carlos del Valle brings to this small, affecting play - even when Cruz's spare writing style is poetic to a fault.
For instance, the playwright doesn't clearly define the initial connections between Pepe and Julio, or between Pepe and Ines, the young woman he brings to care for Julio. But by the end, though tragedy intervenes, Mobtown's production leaves no doubt that the three are forever linked.
Wendy Nogales' Ines is a spirited woman. Part dreamer and part realist, she is the impetus behind the dangerous second-act journey. Her impatience to get on with her life is touching and ultimately dangerous. Manolo Santalla's Julio starts out depressed, crotchety and stubborn. But his love for Ines restores hope to his life.
Pepe is the character about whom we know the least. Yet the fun-loving vigor with which Noah Stanzione imbues his portrayal increases the subsequent poignancy when Pepe temporarily loses his sanity on the raft.
Indeed, the ocean plays tricks on each of the characters in the course of their perilous journey. This mental fragility is frighteningly evident during a brief sequence in which all three jabber at once.
A note in the program explains that Cruz was inspired by a Rene Magritte painting that shows two lovers kissing with their heads shrouded. Cruz re-creates that image twice in A Bicycle Country (the title refers to a comment by Pepe about how backward Cuba has become).
Magritte's painting suggests that love is often a leap into the unknown, and, as Mobtown's lyrical production suggests, so is the blind faith of these brave and reckless travelers.
Show times at Mobtown, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 23. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 410-467-3057.
A new title
Wendy C. Goldberg, artistic associate at Arena Stage in Washington, has been named artistic director of the prestigious National Playwrights Conference at Connecticut's Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Over the past four decades the O'Neill has fostered plays by such distinguished playwrights as John Guare, Wendy Wasserstein and August Wilson.
Now in her fifth season at Arena, Goldberg directed the theater's current production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? She is also head of Arena's new play development program, "downstairs in the Old Vat Room," whose spring series begins April 14.
Due at Shepherdstown
Speaking of new plays, the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., has selected four plays for its 15th anniversary season.
"These are plays about what is happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods," said producing director Ed Herendeen. "They're very contemporary and it would be hard to do contemporary plays today that didn't deal with some of the political questions that we're dealing with in this present time."
Three of the plays examine patriotism and/or militarism. Sam Shepard's The God of Hell takes a darkly comic look at the impact of patriotism on a Wisconsin dairy farmer and his wife. Melinda Lopez's Sonia Flew focuses on a Cuban-American mother's efforts to hold her family together in a post-9/11 world.
Lydia Stryk's American Tet, a world premiere, examines the cost of the Iraq war on the families of U.S. soldiers. And Sheri Wilner's Father Joy, the other world premiere, concerns the unusual relationship between a young woman and her father.
Subscriptions to the four-play season, which runs July 8-31, cost $90 and $110. Single tickets cost $28 and $33. For more information, call 800-999-CATF or visit www.catf.org.