Displaced
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Ed Smith

“Every time I write a play about Cuba I go there, but my trip is an emotional one rather than a literal one,” says Cuban American playwright Rogelio Martinez. “It involves questions –lots of questions. Confusion. Uncertainty. Laughter. Most importantly of all, joy, a joy I get when I discover a little more about who I am. When I stop and examine my experience and memories and also stories from my friends and family, I begin to fill in the holes that exile has created. Writing is a way of no longer feeling displaced.” Martinez’s words are particularly pertinent to his comedy Displaced now playing at Marin Theatre in Mill Valley.

The problem is that the questions are left unanswered and though some of them provide a few laughs, the audience is left hanging on a big question mark that only seems beneficial to the author. I hate to be critical about this production, because it’s obvious that a lot of work went into it. The cast is outstanding and you couldn’t ask for a better director than Amy Glazer. But even she had her doubts: “It didn’t seem very ‘producible,’” she confessed to Marin Theatre’s artistic director Lee Sankowich. But it was part of Marin Theatre’s Nu Werkz Series, which produces drama by fairly new playwrights, some very experimental. “Isn’t the series a playground to take chances in, to explore? Lee agreed and the play was included in our season. Although very different in tone from Rogelio’s other pieces, it was such fun to work on, so magical and theatrical, the reading just ‘popped.’ Nevertheless, that was just a reading.”

The story revolves around the very self conscious theme of a writer writing a story about an American couple who take off on a hot air balloon ride in Florida and end up getting carried away by stormy winds to Cuba. Miranda (Jamie Jones) and Matt (Darren Bridgett) are not a happily married couple. They haven’t had sex in ages, yet they don’t argue. There’s a Cuban government agent, Serafin (Johnny Moreno), that says he’s there to help the couple get back to the US. It’s obvious that he has a clandestine agenda, but his agenda is full of surprises even to himself. This plot twist does help to maintain audience interest, but there’s not much depth to it, and when it is finally revealed, it doesn’t have much impact. Having the writer of the story and his muse as characters in the play also helps to maintain interest and provides some comedy, but most of that comedy is directed towards writers and editors: “She’s a whore. I’m a writer. Is there a difference?” There are other comic quips like this, but none of them reveal any depth of character so at most they provide a few nervous shallow laughs from the audience.

There’s nothing wrong with comedy for comedy sake, but in Displaced it’s obvious that Martinez was reaching for something deeper as he tried to explore human emotions of confusion, uncertainty and the need for comfort, but since he never quite got there, the play lacked the impact it could have had and simply left the audience full of question marks.

If you like experimental theatre by writers with great potential, there is much you can learn from this production. For tickets or more information call (415) 388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

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