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Stage Review

A family’s complex legacy explored in ArtsEmerson’s ‘Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary’

Marissa Chibas wrote and performs in the solo show.Miranda Wright

The fate of an exile is often to feel stranded between two worlds: the one you lost and the one you found.

But when you’re the child of an exile, how deeply are you shaped — how deeply should you be shaped — by the pain of your parent’s separation from his or her homeland and by the nation left behind?

Those questions hover over “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary,’’ an engrossing and moving solo show written and performed by Marissa Chibas. For Chibas, family history and Cuban national history are woven together to an extraordinary, Zelig-like degree.

She first created and performed “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary’’ years ago, but it has arrived in Boston — directed by Mira Kingsley, and presented by ArtsEmerson through Sunday — at an extraordinary political moment. After decades of standoff, diplomatic relations have been restored between Cuba and the United States, there’s been an easing of travel restrictions, and President Obama gave a historic speech in Havana last month, when he became the first sitting US president to go to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge visited nearly 90 years ago.

In “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary,’’ Chibas explores her family’s complex legacy, especially that left behind by her father, Raul Chibas, who died in 2002. She asks: “Did I inherit his inability to land, his need for flight, his tortured soul?’’


If her father’s soul was tortured, there appears to have been good reason. Raul Chibas met Fidel Castro in the early 1950s, became an ally in the Cuban Revolution against US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and helped Castro write the manifesto that spelled out plans for governing Cuba in the post-Batista era. But in 1960, as it became clear that Castro had become a dictator himself, Raul ran afoul of his erstwhile ally by challenging him to live up to the democratic principles of their manifesto.


Aware that he was at risk, Raul and his wife, Dalia, fled Cuba for the United States in August 1960. Like so many Cuban exiles, Raul Chibas never saw his homeland again — the amount of anguish Castro has caused should not be forgotten — but Marissa went there in 1993, against her parents’ wishes. She became the first member of her family to do so, “going back,’’ she says, “to a place I have never been.’’ (Dalia also later visited.)

Continuing in the present tense, Chibas describes the atmosphere she encountered while spending time with relatives in Cuba: “I begin to understand the code that Cubans speak with, the glances and mime used to avoid being overheard saying something counter-revolutionary. No one can afford to speak freely here.’’

But speaking up and speaking out is clearly a trait of the remarkable Chibas family, and part of the value of this fine show is in recapturing their voices.

Like her father, Marissa’s uncle Eduardo Chibas battled for political reform, becoming a voice against governmental corruption as host of an influential radio program before fatally shooting himself during a live broadcast in 1951. Dalia, her mother, was a figure of glamour, having been the first runner-up in the Miss Cuba contest of 1959. With a blend of affection and humor, Chibas reenacts the words her mother spoke to her shortly before she died two years ago: “I love you. . . . Put on some lipstick.’’


One of Chibas’s most poignant recollections in “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary’’ has nothing — and everything — to do with politics. The scene is a party in 1969 at her family’s Manhattan apartment. Featuring other Cuban exiles as guests, it is a high-spirited gathering marked by bouffant hairdos and cigarettes, scotch and miniskirts — and lots of dancing.

Young Marissa and her sister have been promised dance lessons by friends of their mother. (“When they are not dancing they are telling sad stories and looking lost, but when they dance, they look like goddesses,’’ she recalls.) She looks over and sees her mother and father together, dancing. And then, she says, “I witness something that I rarely see on their faces: joy.”


Written and performed by Marissa Chibas. Directed by Mira Kingsley. Production by CalArts Center for New Performance and Duende CalArts. Presented by ArtsEmerson. At Jackie Liebergott Black Box, Paramount Center, Boston, through May. 1. Tickets: $10-$60, 617-824-8400, www.artsemerson.org

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.