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LA Theater Review


The Mariel Boatlift of 1980 seems, to some of us at least, a world and a lifetime away. But this piece of modern history provides a launching point for playwright-performer Carlos Lacamara's knowing drama, and it serves him well. Six people, very different from one another and stranded at sea on a broken boat, in some cases connected only by the ties and memories of the beloved and reviled country they're fleeing? ¿Cómo se dice "dramatic conflict" en español? We're lucky Lacamara is a gifted writer who takes chances, as well as taking advantage of the play's almost too solid setup, and that "Exiles" is in the capable hands of director David Fofi and a standout group of actors.

Alex Fernandez plays Rolando, a Cubano who fled with his wife to Miami after the socialist revolution. He now finds himself, along with hundreds of fellow exiles, boating to Cuba to "rescue" willing family members—at Castro's invitation. But like many others, Rolando and his teenage son (Ignacio Serricchio) find that the government's open door for emigration has a catch: Instead of being allowed to transport his mother, the embittered Rolando is saddled with his sister's "commie" brother (Lacamara), whom he detests, and Rolando's niece (Heather Hemmens). And he's got an additional two passengers, one who's obviously insane (Khary Payton) and another (Mark Adair-Rios) who appears to be a good guy—but where'd he get all those tattoos? Rolando knows the drill: His nemesis Castro is sticking it to the people by "emptying his jails and nuthouses" and sending the refuse to America. And so we're treated to the play's most risky, rewarding, and also problematic element: shifting realities as we go inside the mind of Payton's mesmerizing lunatic and explore deeper truths.

It goes without saying that "Exiles" covers political ground while coming at us from an anti-Castro perspective. But, at the same time, the play doesn't present the issues in humorless black-and-white and doesn't let any ugly Americans, or Cuban-Americans, off the hook. Nor does it neglect the personal: We make an emotional connection to the characters and complicated relationships, thanks to the outstanding company of actors that draws us in—hook, line, and sinker. In his clean and energetic staging, director Fofi makes terrific use of John Iacovelli's deceptively simple set. And strong lighting and sound design (Jeremy Pivnick and Matt Richter) are integral to the play's nonrealistic layers; they help us hang on even when we find ourselves pulled out of the play by tricky undercurrents.

Presented by Fixed Mark Productions in association with and at the Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Jan. 22–Feb. 27. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 960-4442.

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