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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
9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $10.
13, and Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m.
May 20, at 8 p.m.
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