An appreciation of the Cuban socialist revolution is shown in "A People's Cuban Christmas Tale", Herbert Sigüenza’s adaption of “Christmas Carol”, based in Cuba highlights people's desire for socialism and autonomy in the shadow of American economic interest.
The production will be featured at the OnStage playhouse until Dec.19. As the San Diego Repertoire playwright-in-residence, Sigüenza aims to show there is always an alternative to greed and dispel misinformation surrounding the Cuban socialist revolution.
“I like 'Christmas Carol' because it’s a moral story. It has a good message, but I adapted it to Cuba’s history. Scrooge gets a visit from the past, before the revolution, Cuba present during the Batista dictatorship, and Cuba's future which is the socialist revolution of Fidel Castro,” Sigüenza said.
The 1843 masterpiece “Christmas Carol" written by Charles Dickens recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly man who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and spirits of Christmas past, present and future. Sigüenza's Cuban historical drama follows Ezequiel Scrooge, an American sugar baron intertwined in the political shift of Cuba just before it's revolution.
“Scrooge was greedy. All he cared about was money and he didn't love anybody. That is what the message was about. It was about anti-greed. One of the biggest problems in the world right now is that there is a lot of greed. There are a lot of corporations that are taking and not giving back,” Sigüenza said.
He is known as a founding member of the performance group Culture Clash, a three man comedy performance group founded in 1984 in San Francisco. Along with Richard Montoya and Ric Salinas, Culture Clash is the most produced Latino theatre troupe in the United States. Sigüenza was a predominant voice in Pixar’s Coco and has written and produced plays in regional theatres nationwide.
Writing a People’s Cuban Christmas Tale took a couple of years and a few workshops at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, according to Sigüenza. Many characters were made female, which "made it lot stronger and a lot more contemporary,” he said. This production brought Sigüenza back to his community theatre roots.
“I haven't done a play this small in a long time. It’s great, it feels good,” Sigüenza said. “Doing a Latino play is a big deal. I want Latinos to support Latino plays. If we don't support our own plays, they will not get produced.”
Sigüenza is of El Salvadorian decent and was born in San Francisco. He is vocal in his concern surrounding the socio-economic disparity in the world. The playwright spent time in Cuba during the 1980's and supported the Cuban Revolution in its early days. According to Sigüenza, the topic of socialism is taboo and something that is not fully understood by many people which may cause fear.
“I thought it was a good thing for Cuba. Of course it went on for too long. It didn't change, it didn't adapt so it became stagnant and corrupt which I didn’t support anymore. At least for the first 20 years it was a model society for Latin America,” Sigüenza said.
He notes that a country doesn't become socialist out of nowhere.
“They had centuries of colonialism and imperialism. People were sick of that. They wanted to be autonomous and call their own destiny. There's nothing wrong with that, that is how America started. That is just another way of looking at things. All of my plays are about looking at things in another way,” Sigüenza said.
Cuba established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The country became increasingly dependent on Soviet markets and military aid and was an ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.The end of the Soviet Union came in 1991 and Cuba entered the Special Period, an era of serious economic hardship.
“Since Russia left, Cuba became very poor and did not adapt economically. There was really a lot of sacrifice and a lot of people left and continue to leave. The misinformation is that people continue to leave every day in the thousands and that people are being shot on the streets. That is not happening,” Sigüenza said.
Nevertheless, the Cuban drama is a Christmas story at it's root and brings the sounds of the Havana with a four piece Cuban band.
“If you look at Christmas and Its Christian roots, it’s about Jesus. Jesus was about sharing, looking out for your neighbor and that is socialism. People don't understand that. Jesus was a man of peace. He wanted people to be fed and clothed and loved. That is what this play is about,” Sigüenza said.