On Friday, FringeArts premiered ¡Bienvenidos Blancos! or Welcome White People!, a bilingual exploration of Cuban heritage through the context of its tumultuous relationship with the United States. Lead by a cast of five, the show attempts to fill the gaps of knowledge about Cuban history, without American – more specifically, white – oversight.
Audience members made their way to their seats to traditional rumba rhythms paired with call-and-response lyrics, played by a four-person drum circle featuring cajons and congas.
On a modest set resembling a typical Cuban home, with antique furniture atop a graphic red-and-white patterned floor, the show begins with two American tourists at the start of their Cuban vacation, searching for culture, beaches, and history. Because the show is in both Spanish and English, subtitles are projected onto a white bar stretching across the stage.
From the first scene, exaggerated acting and tongue-and-cheek banter made it clear that the production would be highly satirical, aimed mostly at a stereotype – aloof and entitled white Americans. While the over-the-top style of acting in ¡Bienvenidos Blancos! garnered a few laughs, it became overwhelming as the show progressed and ultimately distracted from the moral and educational elements of the production.
Actors brought life and voice to a marginalized experience. However, those efforts were plagued with chaotic, confusing scenes and stumbles over lines that made important moments less impactful. The on-stage costume changes also felt uncoordinated and led to moments of dead air.
The actors redeemed the show through comedy and dance. Miami-based Cuban-American actress Lori Felipe-Barkin and Havana actor Jorge Caballero stood out as the show’s most vibrant cast members, mainly because of their dedication to the roles. Both had a willingness to be uninhibited, which helped elevate the show in its entirety.
Because of the show’s quick pace, digesting the meaning of each scene was laborious. There were subtitles to read, actors’ expressions to watch, and the misunderstood and misrepresented history of the Cuban government and its people to grasp.
¡Bienvenidos Blancos! hit a high point when director Alex Torra took to the stage to explain, in more depth, the show’s inspiration and to share more context about the extinction of Miami-based Cubans. Torra became misty-eyed when talking about his deceased aunt and his father, who still leaves voice mail reminders to practice his Spanish.
Through Torra’s honesty and vulnerability, ¡Bienvenidos Blancos! made more sense. He revealed feeling closer to his white American identity than his Cuban heritage because of his distance from the country. The show, he said, provided a creative outlet to share a piece of the identity that he struggles to keep alive.
¡Bienvenidos Blancos! may not align with everyone’s taste, but it does open up a more nuanced discussion about identity that could be applied to many nonwhite Americans, especially those from Latin backgrounds.
'¡Bienvenidos Blancos! or Welcome White People'
Through April 28 at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia.
Tickets: $29 general, $15 students
Information: 267-612-4895, www.FringeArts.com