WARNING: Some spoilers ahead.
Good morning, good afternoon…Se formó tremendo show Cubano, but the good kind.
I laughed, cried, and sang on and off throughout the entire performance. What an emotional roller coaster!
As a little girl, my life changed completely when I arrived in the United States via the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. It took a while for our family to get used to this new normal. The bilingual TV show, originally produced for WPBT Channel 2 in 1977, brought the daily happenings of every Cuban in exile to the masses. Exploring the American way through their eyes while exposing our Cuban traditions, ¿Que Pasa U.S.A.? put it all into perspective for the world to see. Centered around the stubborn and conservative grandparents (Antonio & Adela), hard-working and passionate parents (Pepe & Juana), private school teen daughter (Carmencita), and their aloof son (Joe), we nodded and laughed along as we watched every episode together as a family.
As I walked into the theater with my very own Sharon along (my gringuita bestie Kristi), I could not believe I would spend the next couple of hours with my favorite TV family: the Peñas. Sadly, the sitcom grandparents are no longer with us, and the parents are not part of this production after an understandable decades-long feud with the network. Heartbreaking.
The lights turned off, and two spotlights shined brightly unto the curtain-front exposing two actors in place, on opposite sides, ready to begin. But the audience didn’t initially allow it. Cheers and frantic clapping erupted as we expressed our excitement and joy to be reunited with them, live and in person! How could we not? It was Joe (Steven Bauer) and Violeta (Connie Ramirez-one of Carmencita’s best friends)! We were about to learn a little bit about what happened to them and where the storyline was headed. And I didn’t even see it coming. Oh, that’s what happened? Wow.
When the curtain finally rose, we saw that old familiar living room, kitchen, and dining room where it all took place back then. This time, Violeta stars as the lead character. She first nostalgically walks through the old home as voice-overs of the sorely missed parents and grandparents greeted us. Instant. Tears.
Sharon, our favorite gringa (Barbara Ann Martin), sweetly co-stars with Violeta for most of the scenes: their chemistry remains intact. New characters, yin and yang, tia Encarnación (Martha Picanes), and abuela Asunción (Vivian Ruiz), hilariously deliver many of the night’s most successful punchlines. The rest of the supporting cast, nosy neighbor Barbarita, Joe’s goofy son Joey, Sharon’s sassy daughter Amber, suave Papa John’s delivery guy Yanko, and love interests Andrew and Raymundo seamlessly dive right into the Cuban arroz con mango.
The lines, spoken furiously fast and authentically loud, were unforgivingly Cuban: hands flying and all. Ya tu sabes. Just as before, they poked fun at the Cubanisms of young and old. Oye, we Cubans have an insane amount of traditions and sayings. Even I lost track of the many references and inside jokes. I don’t know how much the non-Cubans truly grasped. ¡Ja! I’m also still laughing at some of the lines; Papallón, anyone?
Carmencita (Ana Margo) finally appeared after intermission. I appreciate her cameo, but her scenes just weren’t enough. And don’t get me started on Joe (Steven Bauer); he only opens and closes the show. Sorry, but I wanted more! The play takes several unexpected sad turns, unlike the original show which was mostly lighthearted. But it does come to a festive close. The entire cast reunites in the updated and remodeled Peña home for some Guantanamera, sung by the talented Amber. For the last scene, Joe lifts a glass and toasts to the blessings of being reunited onstage, but mostly for the overwhelming respect and gratitude they (and we) all have for being in the United States of America: the land of the free and the home of the brave. The cast then takes a brief pause by turning their backs to the audience and drawing their attention to a large screen. On it, the opening scenes of the TV show and its catchy opening-credits tune plays. Pass the Kleenex. Again and again.
Predictably, during the final bow, the audience took an extended tearful standing ovation in their honor this time. Every single original cast member had tears in their eyes too. So very touching. I left feeling energized and reminded of the great impact QPU had and continues to have in our lives.
Hosted at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, ¿Que Pasa U.S.A.? Today…40 Years Later plays through May 26th, 2018. Dale. Take your abuela, abuelo, mami y papi. Te esperan todos.