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Posted April 27, 2003 by publisher in Cuban Sports

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Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON | New York Times Magazine

Your new play, ‘‘Once Removed,’’ just opened at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida.

It’s a comedy about rich Cubans who move to Miami in 1961 and think they’re too upper class to become assimilated Americans. They’re unhappy because they can’t find anything to eat besides Spam. They used to eat lobster in Cuba.

It’s unbelievable what’s happening in Cuba now—the government just arrested some 75 dissidents, many of them writers and journalists, and gave them long prison sentences.

Not since the 70’s have dissidents been arrested on this scale. Back then, if you had your hair dyed blond or if you were a rocker—rock ‘n’ roll was illegal—you could be arrested for ‘‘improper conduct.’’ It’s as if Cuba has gone back 30 years.

The dissidents were accused of collaborating with U.S. diplomats in Havana.

Yes, American diplomats went too far. They traveled all over the Cuban countryside and met with dissidents, which is strange, because when you have an embargo with a country, you keep to yourself. When Cuban politicians come to the United Nations, they are not allowed to travel beyond a 25-mile radius from New York.

You wonder whether Bush is trying to provoke Castro.

Last year, someone in the Bush administration accused Cuban scientists of developing chemical weapons. And Bush called Cuba one of the terrorist nations, which of course severely damaged relations between Cuba and the United States.

Are they making weapons?

I doubt it. They’re too poor. They practice organic farming because they can’t have chemicals for their crops because of the embargo. If they can’t buy fertilizer, how can they be making chemical weapons?

As the head of playwrighting at Columbia University, what can you say about contemporary playwrights?

When I write God into a script, I never capitalize it. Someone once told me playwrights never capitalize God.

What about Broadway playwrights?

Broadway is its own world. They should do contemporary American plays, but they do little besides revivals and new British plays. The theater still looks as if it is the 50’s.
The plays are white, and the audiences are white. And that is not representative of America.

Oh, come on, that is so P.C.! White guys write good plays, too. What did you think of Edward Albee’s ‘‘Goat or Who Is Sylvia?’’

It made me proud to be a member of the theater community.

And what about Nilo Cruz, the Cuban-born playwright who just won the Pulitzer Prize?

I challenge the theaters of New York to give him the same level of attention they would give to any other play! His play, ‘‘Anna in the Tropics,’’ has been done in one small theater in Florida. Not even the Pulitzer judges have seen it. Of course, they read the script.

You once wrote a play about a Cuban exile who came to the United States by himself when he was 8, exactly like yourself.

Yes, ‘‘Havana Is Waiting.’’ It was supposed to open in Havana last summer, but it never worked out. In Cuba, they never tell you why.

When were you last there?

I went there last summer. It struck me as newly prosperous. You saw better cars in the street, more Cubans at nice restaurants. There’s a statue of John Lennon in downtown Havana that went up about four years ago. He’s sitting on a bench looking mellow.

Any plans to return soon?

This interview means I can’t go to Cuba for a while, but, hey, what are we here for if not to speak up?

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