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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 10, 2000. All rights reserved.

Divine Divas Deliver


Carmelita Tropicana is a woman not easily categorized.

Considered by many to be one of the most electrifying performance

artists in the world (she won an Obie Award in 1999), she is also

a successful playwright-screenwriter-actor. While being most at home

on the stage, she has also appeared in film and on television. And

she teaches. In trying to define her, writers often resort to hyphens,

describing her as a "woman-Cuban-feminist-lesbian-Catholic."

She has also been called the "National Songbird of Cuba."

In her film, "Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst is Your Waffen"

(loosely translated from the erudite German: "Your Art is Your

Weapon"), she describes herself as "multicultural, multilingual,

multisexual, you know, multigenerational, mucho-multi, multi-everything."

In a telephone interview from her home in New York however, she offers

this simple and hardly self-effacing definition: "I am the Cuban

Medea." Carmelita Tropicana is in fact a persona created by the

multi-talented, multi-dimensional actor Alina Troyano. "Carmelita

is a character that I play."

Carmelita Tropicana will appear solo, on a shared bill with Trazana

Beverley, on Saturday, May 13, and Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m., in the

second season of George Street Playhouse’s Diva Project. Curated by

Reluctant to give many details about her upcoming performance,

she will only say, "The work I’m going to be presenting at George

Street is very raw. It is very much a work in progress." But she

did say that she will do a Kafkaesque piece built around a cockroach

and a parrot discussing the recent Elian Gonzalez story, adding, "My

work is comedy, mostly. Satire. I love language. Puns. Double entendres."

Alina Troyano was born in Cuba, raised in the United States, and graduated

from Queens College. Her father was a revolutionary fighter in Castro’s

takeover and her mother worked for many years as a conference officer

at Planned Parenthood. Her sister, Ela, is a filmmaker who directed

and co-wrote "Carmelita Tropicana Your Kunst is Your Waffen,"

which won the best short film award at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival.

Carmelita Tropicana emerged from Troyano’s work at a comedy workshop

in 1983 at the Wow Theater Cafe. The name Tropicana is familiar from

the well-known orange juice and the notorious Havana nightclub, a

haven for American entertainers and gamblers in the pre-Castro days.

Developed and nurtured through her collaborations with her sister

Ela, Carmelita has starred in highly theatrical, multi-media pieces

around the world. She has performed "Memories of the Revolution,"

based on her father’s stories told to her as a little girl, and "Milk

of Amnesia" in Europe, South America, and Asia. "I know I’m

very Cuban, but I have traveled to all these other places and you

get to feel at home in them."

Troyano recently set her Carmelita persona aside to appear in the

Off-Broadway one-woman show, "Late Nite Catechism." "It

was very fun. I liked it a lot. I wore a nun’s outfit, and I don’t

look good without bangs," she chuckled. "When you’re born

Catholic, it’s deeply embedded. You’re marked. It stays in your subconscious."

The show required a great deal of quick thinking. "I did a lot

of improvising. Punishing. Hitting with rulers," she says. There

was also a vast difference, culturally, in how "Late Nite Catechism"

was received by its audience. "There was a sexual component to

it and the Latinos in the audience were much more bawdy. The Irish

Catholics less so."

Refusing to be pigeonholed, Alina prefers not to focus her work solely

on her minority status. "My work is both American and Latino.

It straddles both. I like that." Her extensive travels have allowed

her to develop a love of different cultures as well as a love of language,

and all have become important elements of her work.

"I like people to be surprised," she says. "I like people

to leave my show crying in one eye and smiling in the other."

— Jack Florek

The Diva Project, George Street Playhouse Second Stage,

9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $10.

Carmelita Tropicana & Trazana Beverley, Saturday, May

13, and Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m.

Reno & Christina Anderson, Friday, May 12, and Saturday,

May 20, at 8 p.m.

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