Despite being born into great wealth and privilege, Raúl Chibas was a major figure in the revolution against the military-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and an early supporter of Fidel Castro. In fact, there once was a decent chance that Chibas, the son of a sugar magnate with a costly education from Columbia University, would become the leader of the revolutionary government, rather than Castro. Even Castro once acknowledged, early in the struggle, that Chibas might not be a bad idea.
But Chibas, the former head of a military academy, was a moderate. And by 1960, he had become disillusioned with his powerful former comrade’s turn to the far left. He defected to America with his family and aided U.S. efforts to undermine Castro’s government. Chibas died in Miami in 2002.
On stage at the Goodman Theatre, performing a solo show about the travails of her family as part of the Latino theater festival known as Destinos, is Marissa Chibas, who happens to be Raúl Chibas’ daughter.
That also means that Marissa Chibas’ uncle was Eduardo Chibas, an outspoken Cuban broadcaster and politician who famously shot himself while on the air in Havana in 1951. Indeed, Marissa Chibas’ show, “Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary,” is about both of these historically significant men and Chibas’ own feelings about the island in whose political history her family played so major a role.
You would not expect a daughter and niece to be dispassionate and, indeed, Marissa Chibas’ 70-minute personal memoir is openly intended to brand the Chibas family, not spoken of in today’s official Cuba, as friends of the ordinary Cuban people, downplaying their affluent, dynastic origins and emphasizing their belief in democratic change and love of the culture and people of their island. She is a skilled performer and she makes a persuasive case, although she shrewdly stays clear of U.S. politics, leading me, at least, to wonder whether she stood in terms of the Cuban embargo, re-emphasized by the administration of President Donald J. Trump.
Many of the themes of the piece follow the trajectory of other solo shows wherein immigrants to the United States have probed their complexity of feelings about the fraught place of their birth and their relationship to their adopted homeland. But Chibas is no ordinary immigrant or refugee, obviously, and her memoir will thus be of particular interest to anyone with an interest in Cuban history; it also is a reminder of the fascinating generational shift in political alliance between most of those who fled Cuba in the immediate Castro aftermath and their children, a shift now remaking the political map in Florida and beyond.
Destinos also has a show presently in the 1700 Theatre at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, “The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon," another theater piece about the personal impact of a repressive dictatorship, in this case the government of Venezuela. This offering from the Chicago-based Water People Theatre Company (which you can experience in either English or Spanish, thanks to translation screens, bilingual artists and a text blending the languages) is a far more intense experience, rooted in intense trauma whereas “Cuban Revolutionary” is organized around a gauzy dream.
The focus of this one-act, two-character play, both written by and starring Rebeca Alemán, is on investigative journalism, a profession hardly beloved by official Venezuela. Alemán, an actress capable of great intensity, plays a bedridden reporter fighting to recover from what appears to be a stroke, not quite sure of the identity of her caregiver (played by Ramón Camín) nor even what got her into this situation. As the 90-minute work unspools, we come to see it involved a story that the government did not want written. And her caregiver is a colleague from her newsroom.
Alemán’s richly crafted performance (it lives with me as I write) offers a deep dive into the challenges of coming back from cerebral injury and, well, any journalist seeing this show (directed by Iraida Tapias) is going to have a visceral reaction, as well as admiration for its exploration of the compromises and deficiencies of courage that often beset even the best newsrooms.
“Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary” plays at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., through Oct. 13; “The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon" plays at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1700 N. Halsted St., also through Oct. 13. For more information on these shows, or on the entire Destinos, the 3rd annual Chicago Latino Theater Festival, running through Oct. 27, visit clata.org/destinos.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.