Immigrant Led Astray in His New Home‘Probation,’ by Yoshvani Medina, in Spanish
By ANDY WEBSTER
Published: July 24, 2012
The playwright and director Yoshvani Medina was born in Cuba, and judging from “Probation,” his engaging work presented by Repertorio Español at the Gramercy Arts Theater, he is consumed with ambivalence about that country. Throughout the play, essentially a dialectic between pro-Cuban and pro-American sentiments, Mr. Medina resists taking sides, wisely preferring to explore gray areas in each perspective.
A prologue presents an unspecified but recent military skirmish in Cuba: A dying Fredo (Sandor Juan) extracts a promise from Pancho (Alfonso Rey) that he will take care of Fredo’s son, Freddy. A year later Pancho is in Miami, and Freddy (also Mr. Juan) and his pregnant wife, Yenny (Hannia Guillén), arrive to start a new life. Pancho sets up Freddy at a shady clinic engaged in Medicaid fraud; the wry, skeptical Yenny seeks employment as a standup comic.
Freddy knows Pancho’s offer is suspect, but the money proves too tempting, and before long he has a house, two cars and the feds on his trail. When the authorities close in, he eyes a return to Cuba, but Pancho, the godfather to his son, tries to dissuade him. (“In Cuba, people have nothing,” he says. “Everything belongs to the government,” which prompts Freddy to retort, “And everything here belongs to the banks.”) Yenny, now a journalist and blogger, has ideas of her own.
The production is in Spanish, which a new, unobtrusive captioning system translates, leaving non-Spanish speakers to savor Mr. Medina’s assured direction and the appealing cast. (Jorge Noa and Pedro Balmaseda’s stark, malleable set keeps the focus squarely on the actors.)
Freddy, who is earnest but seducible, is eclipsed by the cynical Pancho, whose gruff observations can be hilarious, though their more heated exchanges verge on the didactic. Ms. Guillén’s character offers vital leavening, with monologues about sex and the lessons she’s learned in America; her blog is called I Live in Miami (and I Know Its Entrails). Unseen is Freddy and Yenny’s baby, Fred, part of a future generation fated to inherit the impasse between countries so close and yet so very far apart.
“Probation” continues through Sept. 27 at the Gramercy Arts Theater, 138 East 27th Street, Manhattan; (212) 225-9999, repertorio.org/probation.