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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

UMD Puts on Nilo Cruz’s A Bicycle Country

Written by: Sophia da Silva 🇧🇷

Photo courtesy of Dave Andrews.

Anxious chatter fills the tiny theater as spectators take their seats. The courageous ones approach the sea wall that surrounds the stage.

The scenic designer can be spotted gripping the person next to her as she waits for her hard work to unfold in front of everyone.

A voice overhead tells people to silence their phones as the lights go down, and the final shushes mark the journey’s beginning.

Loud bolero music brings us into the world of Julio, Pepe and Ines as the lights come up.

With the help of her cast and crew, director Fatima Quander brought Nilo Cruz’s play “A Bicycle Country” to life at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Between November 10 and 17, the Clarice Center held six performances.

Insane attention to detail and hard work all semester allowed the cast and crew to realize Cruz’s intimate story of love, loss and immigration, which feels particularly relevant today. 

The play follows the story of three Cubans, Julio (Alexander Diaz-Lopez), Pepe (Nelson Chen) and Ines (Gracie Guzman), in 1993. Julio is recovering from a stroke when his best friend Pepe hires Ines to help take care of him. The play explores these characters and their relationship as they decide, in act II, to leave their struggling country for the United States.

Being able to direct this play was a full-circle moment for Quander, who, along with simply loving it, has close connections to the play. She performed a scene from the play and often uses it as a teaching tool in her classes. 

“I still see myself and my history and my family in the characters of this play,” said Quander.

                                            Photo courtesy of Dave Andrews.

Act I takes place completely in Julio’s home and explores the dynamics between the characters. Quander aimed to make this part of the show feel very real and mimic the experience of living in 1990s Cuba.

The scenic designer, Sofía Olivar, worked to make the set reflect the circumstances of the play. Olivar took inspiration from real photography of the time and wanted to capture the country going through a period of turmoil while still being lively.

“I kept going back to that. To finding beauty in decay and how can we show this decay,” said Olivar.

To create this effect, Olivar didn’t want anything to look brand new. She gravitated towards muted colors, added textures to different parts of the set to look worn and made sure the props looked dated.

Designing Act I on a round stage with no walls brought particular challenges. 

“There are all these very beautiful messages on the walls that I thought ‘oh I can’t lose that’. That’s such an integral part of Cuba,” said Olivar which led her to the idea of the seawall surrounding the stage which she covered in phrases.

Olivar also spoke about other technical aspects that helped create an interior on the stage. The blocking from the director and actors and the lighting design created a sense of direction for the audience.

The actors' performances also help ground Act I as the audience gets to understand who the characters are. 

       Photo courtesy of Dave Andrews.

“It’s ultimately about the relationship you have with that other person standing on stage next to you,” said Diaz-Lopez about developing the dynamics between the characters on stage.

In comparison, Act II is much less grounded as it takes from the literary tradition of magical realism. Act II takes place completely at sea as the characters decide to take a raft and sail to the United States for days on end, resulting in delirium.

“There’s this beauty in watching their own decline”, said Quander.

Quander pushed the actors to truly understand their characters and explore the state of being delirious through the character's logic.

“[It’s about] really believing the circumstances,” Chen said about his approach to portraying his character. “We’re blurring the lines between reality and death.”

Lighting and Projection Designer, Luis Garcia used the stage as a mirror to the sky to create the liminal world of Act II with projections of stars and clouds. He casted blue light over the stage to create the feeling of all-encompassing water, but as the act progresses he continues experimenting with color.

“We see the breaking of reality and we start pushing the boundaries of color,”Garcia said.

The set for Act II consists of only a raft that makes its way around the stage through each scene.

In her research, Olivar became amazed by how people from Cuba made rafts out of improvised materials. Wanting to capture this sentiment, the raft used on stage was made out of different pieces of the set from Act I.

“One of the biggest points in the story is seeing how this community that's tired of waiting for their government to help them out, they decide to do something about it,” Olivar said. “They get together and work as a team and use whatever resources they have because that’s what Latin American people do.”


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