Playwright traces family’s history in ‘Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary’
Playwright/actress Marissa Chibas traveled to Cuba on research trips, interviewed Cuban nationals in Miami and studied U.S. State Department files on her uncle while also studying in depth the history of Cuba and her family’s place in it.
Every family has a story. Sometimes it’s buried away and needs uncovering. For Marissa Chibas it took years of hearing “little murmurings” about her parent’s time in Cuba before she began asking questions about life during the Cuban revolution in the 1950s that moved the country from one dictatorship to another.
Chibas already knew the basics: her father and mother had left Cuba in the dead of night arriving in Florida after crossing the Florida Straits in a 16-foot catamaran. It was an escape from Fidel Castro and the revolution.
“I always sensed this was a very emotional topic for my father so I never broached the subject,” Chibas recalls. But once she got to college, that tentativeness disappeared. “I started asking more and more questions and really learned the details of my family history.”
‘Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary’
When: Oct. 8-13
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
It’s an interesting history: Chibas’ father, Raul, co-wrote an important manifesto for the Cuban revolution with Fidel Castro and economist Felipe Pazos; her uncle, Eduardo, a popular radio host, was considered a frontrunner for the Cuban presidency in 1951 before committing suicide as a political statement; and her mother, Dalia, was Miss Cuba runner-up in 1959.
Chibas examines this family history in greater detail in her solo show, “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary,” now making its Chicago debut at the Goodman Theatre as part of Destinos: The Chicago Latino Theatre Festival. The piece was originally produced by the CalArts Center for New Performance where Chibas, who has a long list of acting credits, currently runs Duende CalArts, a program that focuses on projects by Latinx and Latin American artists.
Chibas traveled to Cuba on research trips, interviewed Cuban nationals in Miami and studied U.S. State Department files on her uncle while also studying in depth the history of Cuba and her family’s place in it. At first, her focus was on creating a screenplay about her uncle’s story. It slowly evolved into a very personal solo performance piece.
Chibas says she was moved to reclaim her father’s place in history. “It was harder to erase my uncle although he is not talked about much today,” she notes. “But my father has largely been erased from Cuba by the current government. My goal is to tell his and my family’s story.”
Chibas’ family roots go back to Catalonia, Spain, and several ancestors — Eduardo Agramonte and Ignacio Agramonte — were among Cuba’s founding fathers in the fight for independence from Spain. Her father and uncle’s heads were filled with stories of the importance of liberty and Cuban independence by her great grandmother Luisa Agramonte.
While her uncle fought corruption in the governments of Ramon Grau and Carlos Prio, it was Chibas’ father who, after his brother’s death, supported Castro’s struggle to oust Fulgencio Batista. As a co-signer of The Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra, he was instrumental in bringing together all the disparate groups fighting Batista and emphasizing democratic principles such as free elections and freedom of the press; all of these goals were subsequently ignored by Castro when he came to power.
“Many of the people who fought in the revolution ended up leaving because the idea was not to swap one dictator for another,” Chibas says. “After my father met with Castro in August of 1960 and asked what happened to the manifesto, he realized he was a dead man if he didn’t leave the country.”
Chibas says her favorite moments on stage are those in which she embodies her parents and the uncle she never knew: “It’s a way of bringing them back. I feel very close to my uncle as I do my great grandmother whose influence on my father and uncle has kind of extended to me. It’s an honor to share their stories.”
While “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionay” is more about her father, the writing Chibas is currently doing in memoir form is about telling her mother’s story. She also is working on what she calls a “Cuban documemory” inspired by her reflections on Cuba since her first trip there in 1993.
“I guess it’s the kind of story that won’t leave me alone,” she says, adding that someday she hopes to perform her solo show in Cuba but doesn’t expect that to happen any time soon.
“It’s a particularly tense moment there now. Last December, a law was passed saying you cannot make any art that is not government sanctioned. And yet they say there is no censorship. I would love to perform there but things would have to be very different than they are right now.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.