A Bicycle Country

e ocean that surrounds Cuba seems as oppressive as prison walls to those trapped in Castro's restrictive society. Getting out has become the leitmotif of many Cubans who obsess about freedom and a better place. Julio (a fine-tuned Armando Di Lorenzo) is one of these. A middle-aged man made grumpy by the loss of his wife and his slow recovery from a stroke, Julio's situation is a metaphor for the caged despair of those who feel abandoned by the good life, a decent living, goods, and plenty?all allegedly available just 90 miles away, in America.After his friend Pepe (David Barrera) brings the unemployed nurse, Ines (a deliciously playful Kadina deElejalde), to care for the angry, disillusioned man, Julio's spirit begins to return, and he finds himself becoming not only human again but also hopeful that maybe there is life beyond their unlovely existence. A love story and a political statement, Cuban-born playwright Nilo Cruz's A Bicycle Country explores the themes of freedom and oppression, as well as the courageous power of the human spirit to reinvent itself in the face of seemingly impenetrable physical, social, political, and psychological barriers.Cruz's language is uncluttered, simplistic, sometimes banal, but informed by an unpretentious poetry that rocks with the inevitable bonding of the first act and the rhythm of the unforgiving ocean in the second, which takes place on the raft that Julio's last valuable belongings and the trio's ineffable human spirit have built for their escape to freedom.Richard Hochberg's direction keeps alive the four elements that fuel the arc of Cruz's vision?Tierra, Agua, Fuego, and Aire?earth, water, fire, and air. It is the playwright's light that flickers as the stunning visuals of the second act opening, played on Craig Siebels' elegantly simple raft, backed by the sun and moon's seasons at sea projected on a scrim, become increasingly hallucinatory. Each character in turn indulges in expositional miasma that makes us want to shake them awake and re-inject them with the power and simple common sense that hope had kindled so strongly.The oughta-be climax of the scene, and the play, is too late in coming, resulting in decreased impact and a deep sense of desperate loss and failure, a fatalism that inverts the soul's thirst for freedom and surrenders to passivity. Whereas a happy ending would be specious, a stronger closure is needed to keep consciousness afloa