Playwright Carlos Lacamara's drama puts a powerful human face on the Mariel Boat Lift, Fidel Castro's 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 that he's going to be bringing his beloved mother to his American home. Instead, the authorities force him to take Rolando's pompous brother-in-law Joaquin (Lacamara), Joaquin's 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 boat's motor breaks and tensions flare amongst the passengers. Rolando's 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 Fofi's emotionally rich, character-driven production the conflicts brew and simmer, aided by the claustrophobic mood provided by John Iocavelli's beautifully rickety boat set. The show's pacing sags occasionally, particularly towards 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 play's emotions crackle, and the piece brims with real fury and regret, whether it's the anger of Fernandez's excellently rigid Rolando, or the snappishness of Hemmens's snide but vulnerable Sadia, forced to abruptly uproot her life. Payton's haunting turn as the maniac, whose lunacy, we discover, springs from years of torture, also stands out. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2. (323) 960-4442. Hayworth Theater in association with Fixed Mark Productions.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: April 9. Continues through May 2, 2010