16 Aug Marga Gomez channels Fidel Castro in Berkeley show ‘King of Cuba’
El Comandante is not quite Fidel Castro, but it’s pretty clear whom he’s supposed to represent. He’s the elderly longtime dictator of Cuba pondering his legacy toward the end of his life. And in Cristina García’s play “King of Cuba” with Central Works at the Berkeley City Club, he’s played by comedian Marga Gomez.
The author of several novels starting with “Dreaming in Cuban,” García adapted “King of Cuba” from her own 2013 novel.
“The thing I hate writing most is dialogue,” she says. “I’m happy with these long descriptions of place and people and so forth. So I had to basically pull out what little dialogue there was and then shape it around that. And in fact, the play at this point bears very little resemblance to the book. The trajectory is different, the ending is completely different. It’s for me a new work, except that a few of the main characters are still there. Mainly the two nemeses, El Comandante and his exile antagonist.”
Having lived in Marin the last few years, García says she got into play-writing through a class she took from Central Works co-director and resident playwright Gary Graves, who’s now directing the play.
“This is my actually first official play and the first one that’s getting produced,” says García. “I’ve now adapted another book and written a new play, and they’re in various stages of evolution. I was sort of sick of writing novels after 25 years, and I thought, oh my God, I can’t go back into the Batcave for another four years. And so I decided to take a playwriting class at Berkeley Rep, and who was teaching it but the Central Works guy. He has a series of workshops at the theater and decided to develop this. And I literally emailed Marga through her website, and to my utter astonishment,she said, okay, well, let’s talk. And we became friends. I literally wrote the role with her in mind.”
Gomez, already a fan of García’s work as a novelist, says when she got the email from the author, “I thought it was a scam from Nigeria.”
Gomez announced last year that her 12th solo show, “Latin Standards,” would be her last. A piece about her father, Cuban immigrant comedian Willy Chevalier, and her own journey in show biz, “Latin Standards” will return to play the Marsh Berkeley in October.
She says it’s been a very long time since she last performed in an actual play with multiple performers. She did a stint with the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the 1980s and later performed in “The Vagina Monologues”—but those, of course, are monologues.
“It feels a little bit like my process for doing any of my plays, because I create other characters and they talk to each other,” Gomez says of her experience working on this play. “And you know, I have this niche now, playing old Cuban guys.”
“For me to see these characters come to life is astonishing,” García says. “And Marga doesn’t do just some kind of facsimile of the old tapes of Fidel. I don’t even know what Fidel looks or sounds like anymore, because for me, Marga has supplanted the real one with this fictional one that’s comical.”
“My first challenge is not to sound like my father in ‘Latin Standards’ or in any other play I’ve done about my father,” Gomez says. “I think my greatest challenge is to get the voice, because I understand a lot about the character — the thing about feeling relevant that’s so important to me as an artist in the 30 years I’ve been performing. I’m playing someone who couldn’t have been more significant, who feels that he’s being forgotten, and he identifies with the Revolution which he feels is being forgotten. So he’s kind of bailing water out of a rowboat with holes.”
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