Cuban Theater Troupe Makes U.S. Debut Teatro Buendia, Cuba's premier theater company, is performing at the Goodman Theatre's Latino Theatre Festival in Chicago. This is the first time it has performed in the U.S. But don't think that the group blindly supports the revolution; it does not shy away from criticizing Cuba.
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Cuban Theater Troupe Makes U.S. Debut

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Cuban Theater Troupe Makes U.S. Debut

Cuban Theater Troupe Makes U.S. Debut

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) (Singing in foreign language)

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "LA VISITA DE LA VIEJA DAMA")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORLEY: Playwright Raquel Carrio wrote this adaptation of the Swiss play "The Visit."

RAQUEL CARRIO: (Speaking foreign language).

CORLEY: Unidentified People (Actors): (As characters) (Speaking foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "LA VISITA DE LA VIEJA DAMA")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORLEY: This is the first time Teatro Buendia has performed in the United States, but the troupe has traveled around the world. The Goodman's executive director Roche Schulfer says the Cuban company's aesthetic and point of view fits the Goodman philosophy.

ROCHE SCHULFER: With the Goodman philosophy of how to approach classic work, approaching classics as if they were new plays and new plays as if they were classics.

CORLEY: The festival's curator, Henry Godinez, was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a child with his parents shortly after Cuba's 1959 revolution. His first efforts to get Teatro Buendia to Chicago fell flat in 2003, but it was easier this time around. Godinez first saw the troupe perform "La Visita" in Cuba last December.

HENRY GODINEZ: I was sitting there in the audience, first of all laughing because it's initially very funny but looking over my shoulder going, how are they doing this?

CORLEY: Amazed, says Godinez, because Teatro Buendia does not shy away from criticizing the Cuba of today, which jails many of its dissidents.

GODINEZ: And I think that that would be a surprise to many of us, especially many of my fellow Cuban-Americans in the exile community, you know, that we think all artists in Cuba are kind of, you know, blindly supportive of the revolution.

CORLEY: Artistic director Flora Lauten, a professor at the University of Art in Havana, founded Teatro Buendia in 1986 with graduates of the school. Lauten says the company has never been censored, is no government mouthpiece, and she and the troupe do not attempt to sugarcoat the reality of their country as they see it.

FLORA LAUTEN: First of all, my generation made the revolution. But that doesn't mean that when years pass, you have to have a passive attitude towards what you made when we were young. You have to reflect on your reality, and then you have to talk about what you think that is not going in the best way.

CORLEY: Besides, says Lauten, Cuban authorities know the company produces quality work with few resources and has garnered international acclaim. The company's presence here might have stirred protests in other parts of the U.S., but Chicago's Cuban population is small, and the Goodman's Latino festival is not likely to become a cultural battleground.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORLEY: Instead, the theater company will weave traditional Cuban music and dance with the words of its playwright, all in Spanish, but Lauten says Teatro Buendia is very physical and uses lots of images to bridge any language barriers. She just hopes audiences will come with no preconceptions.

LAUTEN: We show not only our rhythms and our music, we show our (unintelligible), our scars, and that is so universal that if the audience opens up, I think that we will embrace each other.

CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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