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A Cuban Love Story, Complete With Fidel

A Cuban Love Story, Complete With Fidel


Playwright Odalys Nanin tells us why she felt compelled to revive her stage tale of lesbian love in Castro's Cuba.

There are no revolutions without poets. I've written 10 plays, and every one of them attempts to educate, enlighten, and entertain the audience about our LGBT stories. One of mine, Skin of Honey, is a love story set in the upheaval of Castro's Cuba during the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. In 1961, two young Cuban girls are torn apart only to be reunited again after 20 years of separation. My play is a love story imbued with passion, eroticism, and political drama. It was inspired by my desire to educate the audience to the painful struggle of the LGBT community in Cuba.

Homosexuality was declared illegal in Cuba and punishable by four years in prison in the 1960s. In 1964, Fidel created UMAP, labor camps where 60,000 homosexuals were forced into hard labor. In the 1980s, Fidel created the Mariel boat lift where the antisocial, dissidents, criminals, and homosexuals ("scum," as he called them) were allowed to immigrate to the U.S. In other words, he cleaned out his prisons -- fewer mouths to feed, simple economics, Chica!

The main characters in Skin of Honey/Piel de Miel are Isabel and Amelia. Isabel belongs to the youth of the revolution and grows up under Castro's homophobic regime. Amelia is a published writer and poet who is openly gay and lives in West Hollywood. However, Isabel's best friend is Yani, a transgender woman who is persecuted in Cuba for dressing in women's clothing. Yani wants to go to the U.S. to get her sex-change operation -- sex-change operations did not become legal in Cuba until 2008. Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel, is responsible for this achievement by carving out a grassroots movement for LGBT rights. Impressive, since Cuba is one of the most oppressed societies on earth.

The character of Fidel Castro is prominent in my play due to his relationship with Isabel, who is a ballerina in the Cuban National Ballet. This twist in the story will be revealed right before the curtain falls.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival, through One City One Pride, has included Macha Theatre/Films as one of the venues for the festival. This is monumental for a producer in small theater because of the exposure and opportunity for a broader audience to see our LGBT stories. As a proud Cuban-American, I'm so grateful for the bravery of my parents, who in 1969 migrated to the U.S. under the Freedom Flights agreement. I wrote and produced Skin of Honey in 2007 when I acquired my theater in West Hollywood's Macha Theatre/Films. It received great reviews, but the Cuban community did not respond in a positive way. They were not pleased that I had the character of Fidel Castro onstage. I went on to write many other plays, such as Marilyn-My Secret!, Garbo's Cuban Lover, Lavender Love, and The Lieutenant Nun. I'm presently working on a new play.

President Obama's visit to Cuba after 57 years of alienation between both governments inspired me to produce a revival of Skin of Honey. I believe that his visit will cause a sea change on that jewel of an island where people are not free and human rights are not respected.

Mariela continues to valiantly try to move the LGBT agenda forward and has been able to secure funds for her organization from Belgium and other countries; her goal is to legalize same-sex marriage on the island. The fact remains that Fidel's revolution is fueled on ultra-macho ideals, which consider homosexuals unfit for the revolution. Perhaps, the fact that Cuba's biggest industry is tourism -- 2 million visitors last year -- and that Western tourists prefer a "friendly Cuba" to a notorious human rights violator might just be the catalyst for greater freedoms. We all must continue to fight against homophobia by educating those around us. I believe I'm able to make that contribution through the production of my plays. Advocating for human rights and the freedom to love who you desire without discrimination is my ultimate goal as an artist and a revolutionary poet.

Skin of Honey/Piel de Miel runs June 11, 17, 18, 24, 25 at 8 p.m. and June 19 at 6 p.m. in West Hollywood. Click here for more information.

ODALYS NANIN is a writer, director, and producer and the producing artistic director and founder of Macha Theatre/Films.

Odalys Nanin

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