In an attempt to avoid the charmless effect of two consecutive one-person shows, the American Place Theatre has turned its performance space into a Cuban café, complete with rice and beans, rum punch, and memorial altars for the evening’s pieces. Interspersed between monologues by Eileen Galindo and Michael John Garcés are mambos and cha-chas and a performance poem, “También soy-soy también.” In Dreaming in Cuban, based on a successful novel by Cristina Garcia, Galindo convincingly inhabits Pilar, a Brooklyn-bred Cuban American who rebels against her parents’ ultra-conservatism by becoming a punk-rock painter. Her storytelling is thoughtfully paced and shows nice range, moving from Pilar’s transgressive painting debut in her parents’ Yankee-Doodle Bakery to an unsettling sex attack in Morningside Park.
Though Galindo’s piece is the headliner, Michael John Garcés’s Agua Ardiente steals the evening. His bifurcated strategy to express lyricism and passion in Spanish and analytic deconstruction in English is so well executed it avoids being obvious. Garcés launches into an edgy explosion of Spanglish prose poetry in an attempt to resolve the Cuban-Colombian and white-black contradictions in his genetic makeup. Swilling shots of aguardiente, the moonshine-y Colombian sugarcane liquor, Garcés argues that his Cuban grandfather was white “despite his black skin” and “married white people so he could have them and hate them.” His allusions to Cuban singer Benny Moré and his mastery of regional accents, combined with Galindo’s Brooklyn-Havana hybridity, bring to life an expanded, pan-Latino identity. Still, the smell of the rice and beans and the sinewy spurts of the dancers simply recall the notion of family, and their unforgettable faces and dreams.