BY MIA LEONIN
Special to The Miami Herald
photo by Ernesto Garcia
Adapting a classic can be a perilous tightrope walk between drawing on the brilliance of the original and creating a work that will have an identity of its own. Director Rolando Moreno's La Ultima Parada (The Last Stop), based on Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire, boldly walks this fine line. Almost a decade after it first premiered in Miami, this Spanish-language drama, produced by Maroma Players and Creation Art Center, and on stage at Little Havana's Teatro en Miami Studio, still feels innovative and risky.
Drawing inspiration from Streetcar's rough-and-tumble, working-class milieu, the Cuban-born Moreno sets his drama in a run-down housing compound in the Eastern province of Cuba. William's masterpiece translates well to the repressive '70s when the Cuban Revolution set out on one of its most notorious failed experiments -- the government's manic charge to harvest 10 million tons of sugarcane as part of a reciprocal trade pact with the former Soviet Union.
In addition to historical and geographical changes, Moreno's iconic Blanche DuBois figure is portrayed as a man. Having lost the family estate and after a string of traumatic events, Laurel (Joel Sotolongo) seeks refuge in his sister's ramshackle apartment. To his dismay, Felicia (Gelet Martínez) has abandoned their former life of privilege to serve the Cuban Revolution and marry Pancho (Carlos Caballero), a crude, uneducated sugar cane worker.
Initially, Laurel's genteel, erudite character sets up an interesting dichotomy with his sister's new-found fervor for the common man's struggle. However, the ideological tension pales in comparison to the psychological turmoil that ensues as Laurel's secrets slowly come to light. Casting Blanche as a man who turns out to be gay makes for a scathing indictment of the Revolution's inhumane ``rehabilitation'' of homosexuals -- not to mention the double moral of the island's hypersexual, testosterone-driven society represented by Pancho and neighbor Lazarito (Leandro Peraza).
Caballero and Vivian Ruiz, who plays Petra, party loyalist and neighborhood watchdog, originated their roles in 2001. In this revival, Ruiz's talent for discharging boisterous wisecracks and brusque reprimands remains intact. Petra's blind devotion to the Revolution adds a necessary comic relief to the story.
Caballero's portrayal of Pancho, however, has evolved in interesting ways. In 2001, his sexual magnetism seemed homage to Marlon Brando's cinematic debut as Stanley Kowalski. While Pancho's primal attraction to Felicia is still a driving force in the story, he has become more surly and ruthless. Still ruggedly handsome, the veil of sexual prowess has been ripped away and Pancho's cruelty makes the fate of Laurel and Felicia all the more heartrending.
Time travel and gender bending aside, the one thing any remake of Streetcar must do is reckon with the iconic character of Blanche. Moreno's direction and Sotolongo's portrayal reveal a character who seems simultaneously naïve and world-weary. The key, however, is that Sotolongo's Laurel never loses his vulnerability -- a vital component to this mercurial and tragic figure.
IF YOU GO
What: ``La Ultima Parada'' by Rolando Moreno
Where: Teatro en Miami Studio, 2500 SW Eighth St., Little Havana, through Jan. 31
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday