Though stocked with historical facts, familial memories and deeply-felt, autobiographical explorations; and played on a striking set of sand below and grainy black-and-white images projected above, the most memorable things about the off-Broadway solo, Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary, are Marissa Chibas' hands. The opposite of an actress who doesn't know what to do with her limbs while speaking, Chibas throws her whole body gracefully, sometimes torturedly, into every gesture, almost always starting with a movement of her fingers that then radiates into the rest of her. If she's a dozen years removed from her turn as a fetching love interest in the enjoyable off-Broadway comedy, Fortune's Fools, Chibas now has a dancer's physicality that keeps her just as compulsively watchable.
It's a big help, because her 70-minute autobiographical solo goes a few too many places and yearns to encompass too many things to be as impressive as her sheer presence and obvious commitment to the material.
Certainly, the true story of Chibas' family is worth a bookshelf, let alone a short play. The actress' father was one of Fidel Castro's right-hand men during the revolution, co-writing the 1957 manifesto that urged a democratic Cuba, fighting in the mountains to bring down the previous dictator, Batista; and then serving in various capacities during the first months of Castro's regime. Raul Chibas quickly became disillusioned with Fidel's version of freedom and, with his wife, a former Miss Cuba runner-up, defected to the U.S. in 1960. Though he lived to 86, he would never see his country again.
Added to Ms. Chibas' parents' saga is that of her father's brother. A famed 1940s radio personality with presidential ambitions, Eddy Chibas railed on the air about corruption, which strongly influenced young Castro's anti-Batista leanings. However, 1951 saw Eddy seemingly uncover a major scandal, only to learn a week later that his source - and the promised proof - had vanished. On his next broadcast, Eddy interrupted his fiery oration to commit suicide by shooting himself three times in the stomach.
Quite a story, yes? One which Ms. Chibas frames, rather oddly, around a moment where she nearly drowns on her honeymoon. Apparently it's this near-death experience that pushes her back to her roots and sends her to Cuba. There she seeks out relatives and acquaintances who don't necessarily have answers, but at least they have photographs (which the actress, tellingly, places in the sand like both markers and tombstones) and, in one instance, an important audiotape.
But there's still a disjointedness to all these aspects of the play. At first, the piece seems to be about the actress trying to understand her parents' years in Cuba and their adjustment to life in New York and then Miami. Then Daughter shifts gears to her uncle because Chibas is so haunted by his story - a problem, because she hasn't humanized Eddy enough for us to be as gripped by his life and death as she is. Then we're pulled back to the solo's least interesting aspect - how everything affected her. Since Eddy's suicide came ten years before Marissa was even born, it feels like she's pushing herself into material that she should probably have observed from a more objective distance. As such, we watch her wrench herself with reenactment - impressive, but not moving.
Frustrating, too, are the photographs shown so fuzzily behind Chibas throughout the piece. Yes, they do serve as a metaphor to show how time pulls everything out of focus, especially when elements of history are deliberately erased and suppressed. But these were real people in Chibas' family, and it'd be helpful if, when she gestures at a particular personage on the screen, we could see more than a blob.
That said, the strong<