Davidson College Department of Theatre's 2013 Production of Sonia Flew
Written by Melinda Lopez
Directed by Sharon Green
Dramaturgy notes written by Christine Noah '14
Melinda Lopez is a playwright and actress with her B.A. from Dartmouth College and her M.A. from Boston University. She has performed at the Huntington Theatre, the Guthrie Theatre, Shakespeare and Co., and Boston Playwrights Theatre. Her first play was a solo piece entitled God Smells Like a Roast Pig, the success of which was followed by Sonia Flew, which won the Ellie Norton Award for "Best New Play." Her other plays include Irne, Midnight Sandwich/Medianoche, and The Order of Things. Her approach to playwriting is deeply rooted in her experience as an actor and her reverence for their work. She says that she always tries not to write too much, allowing for the actors to do more. As a writer born to Cuban parents, she finds that her mind constantly returns to Cuba, and its influence appears in much of her work. With Sonia Flew, she wanted to explore the strength of the parent-child bond, as well as the surge of patriotism that swept the United States following the events of 9/11. When she isn't acting or writing, she teaches theatre and performance at Wellesley College.
A Brief History of Cuba
For centuries, Cuba was ruled by a colonial power. The island was one of the first claimed by Christopher Columbus' expedition, and soon after its native people were governed by the Spanish crown. When most of its Latin American neighbors were gaining their independence in the first half of the nineteenth century, Cuba, a strategic asset both geographically and materially (with its vibrant sugar industry), remained under Spanish rule. It was not until the intervention of the United States in the Spanish-American War of 1898 that the native population could gain their independence, though they continued to be occupied by the U.S. military. This liberation left Cuba with an active and passionate political scene, which, over the next sixty years, would be roused by the increasingly close relationship of Cuba's leaders with the United States.
During Fulgencio Batista's dictatorial reign in the 1950s, Cuba's economy thrived thanks to the investments of U.S. interests. Havana became a playground full of nightclubs and casinos, attracting wealthy American vacationers.
Nationalist fervor and the desire for an economically and culturally independent Cuba began to grow, and Fidel Castro and his rebel supporters started to plan. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Castro finally launched an effective crusade against Batista in 1958, and Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959. At first, the Cuban people were ecstatic to have control of their country back, believing that democratic elections would soon take place. But by 1960, it became clear that Castro intended to take over indefinitely, implementing communist-style programs across the island and enforcing strict consequences for any who did not support the revolution. Many people-mostly from the middle and upper classes, including many intellectuals-fled the country and sought refuge in the U.S. After America's botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, during which the Soviet Union showed its strong support of Castro, the U.S. realized that Cuba was now a dangerous enemy.
The Cuban Revolution
The Cuban Revolution brought the Castro regime into power and irreversibly changed the lives of Cuba's citizens. Property was confiscated by the state, and people were required to pledge their allegiance to the government by participating in efforts such as literary campaigns in the provinces. Below are some of the effects of the Revolution that are discussed in Sonia Flew.
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution
In order to ensure that all the people of Cuba were loyal to the revolution, its leaders, and its goals, Castro implemented the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. The Committees became a kind of "neighborhood watch" and members were trained across the country, especially in Havana. By the end of 1961 about 800,000 people were members of Committees, and their presence was highly visible and imposing. Though members were given legitimate government jobs, such as in the healthcare or education sectors, their main purpose was to record their neighbors' activities and report anything that could be considered anti-government. Approval by the Committees became necessary in job hiring, attainment of housing, and university attendance. Castro referred to it as "revolutionary collective vigilance." If one was caught doing or saying anything to challenge the revolution, the consequences were dire: imprisonment, torture, even death.
One thing that could get you reported by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution was listening to Radio Swan. "Radio Swan" was the name of a short-wave radio station, so called because it came out of the Swan Islands in the Caribbean Sea. It existed between the years of 1960 and 1968. Radio Swan was a CIA-run operation that was part of President Eisenhower's program to overthrow Castro's government by keeping the people of Cuba informed. It became a commercial station, selling time to anti-Castro groups and counterrevolution supporters. When the Cuban government discovered the channel, it attempted to block Radio Swan's transmissions. By 1961, Radio Swan had stopped selling air space in order to broadcast only important news, and it continued to transmit on fourteen different frequencies.
Operation Pedro Pan
Because of the fear incited by Castro's regime and their nationalization of what seemed like the whole country, many Cuban parents grew anxious about the possibility of losing parental rights. In order to save their children from government control and communist rhetoric, parents began sending their children to the United States. The first two unaccompanied children to fly from Cuba to Miami left on December 26, 1960, about two years after Castro's arrival. Over the next two years, approximately 14,000 Cuban children would depart from their families and homes for America. One of the heads of Operation Pedro Pan was Father Bryan O. Walsh, the Director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami. When a teenage exile named Pedro showed up at his office in need of a foster family, Walsh realized that there would be many more like him, and he asked the United States government to provide funding for the care of those to come. Walsh teamed up with James Baker, the headmaster of an American school in Havana who agreed to help get children out of Cuba and deliver them to Walsh in Miami. When the children touched down in Miami, however, they were first met by Jorge Guarch, known to the kids as "George." Guarch dealt with customs issues and recorded the names and information for all the children in his "Airport Log." Most of the parents and children who became a part of Operation Pedro Pan believed that the situation would only be temporary-maybe months, two years at most. After that time, they believed that the children would either be able to return to a Castro-free Cuba, or the parents would be able to follow their children and seek refuge in the United States. However, because of restrictions later implemented by the Castro government, many families were never able to reunite.
Timeline of the Revolution: Important Events
o July 26, 1953: Fidel Castro and a band of rebels attack the Moncada Barracks in
Santiago de Cuba and Castro is charged for his crimes.
o October 16, 1953: Castro delivers his famous speech entitled "History Will Absolve Me."
o May 1955: Batista releases Castro from prison and Castro flees Cuba.
o December 1955: Castro, along with his brother Raul, Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, and other rebels, return to the provinces of Cuba.
o January 17, 1957: Castro's guerilla rebels attack an army outpost and accrue followers.
o May 28, 1957: The "26th of July Movement" led by Castro takes over an army post in El Uvero.
o March 13, 1958: The United States stops providing arms and supplies to Batista's government forces.
o March 17, 1958: Castro rallies support for a people's revolt.
o May-August 1958: Batista sends troops to defeat Castro's rebels in the Sierra Maestra, but the rebels overcome them.
o December 28, 1958: Guevara successfully takes over Santa Clara.
o December 31, 1958: Camil Cienfuegos, another of Castro's rebels, seizes Yaguajay.
o January 1, 1959: Batista flees Cuba and relinquishes his presidency.
o January 8, 1959: Castro enters Havana and addresses the people.
o February 16, 1959: Castro takes over as the Premier of Cuba.
o April 15: Castro travels to the United States and claims to have no interest in communism.
o May 17, 1959: Castro passes the Agrarian Reform Act, which limited the size of farms and properties and disallowed foreigners from owning land.
o February 1960: Cuba begins relations with the U.S.S.R. and the Soviets start funding Castro's regime.
o July-September 1960: Cuba confiscates and nationalizes all U.S. properties and businesses in Cuba.
o September 28, 1960: Castro announces the formulation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
o December 26, 1960: Operation Pedro Pan begins.
o January 3, 1961: The United States cuts off its diplomatic relations with Cuba.
o April 17, 1961: The Bay of Pigs attack from the U.S. by Cuban exiles fails.
o May 1, 1961: Castro declares Cuba a "socialist country."
o March 1962: The Cuban government imposes food rations.
o October 14, 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis begins.
Jargon of the Play
o Compos mentis - Latin, "of sound mind"
o MSR Eagle - In this case, "MSR" stands for "Main Supply Route," with "Eagle" being the name denoting that route
o RPG - "Rocket Propelled Grenade"
o Apache- a type of military helicopter
o Frijoles - "beans"
o Pasteles - "cake, pastry," typically filled with guava fruit
o Síncope - "fainting"
o Compañera - "companion, teammate"
o Yanqui - "Yankee"
o Mariposa - "butterfly"
o Pachanga - Type of Cuban dance; a "happy-go-lucky" dance with a Charleston feel; there is a double-bending and straightening of the knees; danced to mambo music
o Rugelach - Jewish pastry
o Kugel - Baked Jewish pudding, similar to a pie
o Plotzing - Origin in Yiddish, "fainting"
o Red star - Represented the Communist Party
o G-2 - Cuban Intelligence Service
o Quinceañeras - The celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday in Latin American culture; they usually involve lavish parties with formal dancing
o Oshún - A goddess of Cuban Santeria (Caribbean religion influenced by Roman Catholicism and Yoruba religions); goddess of love, maternity, and marriage; protector of pregnant women
Additional Websites and Further Reading
o Interview with Melinda Lopez: http://www.actorsequity.org/newsmedia/news2006/Dec1.MelindaLopez.asp
o A brief article on pre-revolutionary Cuba: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Before_the_Revolution.html
o An article on exile and the revolution: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/282228/exile-and-revolution-mario-loyola
o PBS' American Experience web site on Fidel Castro: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/castro/
o Carlos Eire's Waiting for Snow in Havana, about his experience as a child in Operation Pedro Pan
o William Luis' Culture and Customs of Cuba
o Luis M. Garcia's Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro's Cuba
Lopez, Melinda. "Melinda Lopez." Wellesley College. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.
Mangan, Jane. "An Overview of Cuban History and Culture." Davidson College. 16 Jan.
Piemme, Karen Altree. Sonia Flew: A Study Guide Presented by San Jose Repertory
Theatre. N.d. Study Guide.
"Timeline: Post-Revolution Cuba." American Experience. PBS, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.
Wolfe, Lisa Reynolds. "1960s Cuba: Defending the Revolution." The Cold War. Cold
War Studies, 12 May 2011. Web. 05 Feb. 2013. <http://www.coldwarstudies.com/2011/05/12/1960s-cuba-defending-the-revolution/>.