Playwright Carlos Lacamaras drama puts a powerful human face on the Mariel boat lift, Fidel Castros mean joke of 1980, when Cuban-Americans were invited to come to Cuba to fetch their loved ones, to take them to the Land of Opportunity but were instead subjected to a painful bait and switch. Cuban-American mechanic Rolando (Alex Fernandez) sails his rickety boat to Cuba, believing hes going to be bringing his beloved mother to his American home. Instead, the authorities force him to take Rolandos pompous brother-in-law, Joaquin (Lacamara), Joaquins sullen daughter, Sadia (Heather Hemmens), and some other extra treats a maniac (Khary Payton) and a murderer (Mark Adair-Rios). Midway through the voyage, the boats motor breaks and tensions flare amongst the passengers. Rolandos teenage son Roli (Ignacio Serricchio) falls for Sadia, while Rolando and his brother-in-law fight over long-ago wrongs. Then the murderer makes his move. In David Fofis emotionally rich, character-driven production the conflicts brew and simmer, aided by the claustrophobic mood provided by John Iocavellis beautifully rickety boat set. The shows pacing sags occasionally, particularly toward the end, which feels inordinately drawn out and the breakdown of the boat seems like a forced plot development to keep the characters from being able to get anywhere. Yet, the the plays emotions crackle, and the piece brims with real fury and regret, whether its the anger of Fernandezs excellently rigid Rolando, or the snappishness of Hemmens snide but vulnerable Sadia, forced to abruptly uproot her life. Paytons haunting turn as the maniac, whose lunacy, we discover, springs from years of torture, also stands out. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 27. (323) 960-4442. Hayworth Theater in association with Fixed Mark Productions.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Jan. 22. Continues through Feb. 27, 2010