Written by Cuban-American Nilo Cruz, “Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams” is the story of two siblings who arrive parent-less to the US from post-revolution Cuba, become estranged, and reunite decades later back in the island during Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998.
Cruz, who in 2003 became the first Latino honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his “Anna in the Tropics,” wrote “Hortesia and the Museum of Dreams” prior to that, in 2001. This work discusses the unique experiences of the 14,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in the US during 1961-62 as part of “Operacion Peter Pan” (organized by the American government and the Catholic Church) to live with relatives or to be taken in at orphanages until the (hoped for) arrival of their parents.
In the play, Luca and Luciana are two “Pedro Pans” who are forced to fend for themselves and in the process develop a secret that would keep them apart for many years. It is at Hortensia’s Museum of Dreams, which Cruz uses to explore subjects like faith, belief, and magic, that they are finally able to speak again.
“Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams” includes a bit of the famous Latin American magical realism. Hortensia believes in spirits that pay her special attention and in divine forces that take care of people’s needs. Hundreds of small notes of granted dreams form the “museum” that she wants the Church to recognize officially. Hortensia’s two sons, and helpers at the Museum of Dreams, infuse a bit of humor and lightness into an otherwise serious story.
At Casa 0101, about 30 seats are placed backed against the walls of the small venue encircling the action. This means that the actors are close to the audience, often looking at them right in the eye while delivering the lines. They are well rehearsed because the play flows smoothly with little to no hesitation and few perceivable hiccups, even as they work with few props on a simple stage.
A percussionist and a flute player are at one side of the theater. They provide background music throughout, most significantly during the couple of scenes when the characters practice a few danzón steps, but no larger dance scene forms part of the production.
Cruz incorporated sensuality and hints of sexuality into the play, which are delivered well at Casa 0101.
At the end, a viewer will find him or herself feeling anywhere between pleased for the new “dream” that has come about and/or uneasily aware of the siblings’ secret.
It is not quite a feel-good story, but it is bound to resonate with the Cuban audience. And for anyone in attendance, it is also a window into life in Cuba and into the experiences of those who either chose or were forced to leave the island.
The play is 90-minutes long with no intermission. You are allowed to bring in drinks and small bites. No food is sold at the premises but there is a small store next door. Theater tickets range $15 to $20. The play performs Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. through November 3, 2013.
Casa 0101 is located at 2009 East First Street, Los Angeles CA 90033. See www.casa0101.org/shows/hortensia for more details.