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In The Cuban Swimmer, by Terrence McNally, which relationships were significant and why?

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ceerayy | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 5, 2009 at 3:28 AM via web

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In The Cuban Swimmer, by Terrence McNally, which relationships were significant and why?

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted July 5, 2009 at 1:47 PM (Answer #1)

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ceeravy,

Do you mean "The Cuban Swimmer" by Milcha Sanchez-Scott?

If you do, The Cuban Swimmer is an experimental play in both form and style. Its construction requires innovative devices, and the play’s cumulative impact is considerable. "The Cuban Swimmer" creates three distinct but inter-dependent worlds—the swimmer in the water, her family in the boat behind her, and the radio newscasters in the helicopter.

None of these worlds can be presented realistically on-stage. They must be stylized in some way by the director and the designer. This factor highlights the symbolic—almost allegorical—atmosphere of the play, a quality the author both indulges and satirizes. 

The most interesting aspect of The Cuban Swimmer is the bilingual texture of the dialogue. Sanchez-Scott creates two separate linguistic worlds—the mixture of Spanish and English spoken by the Suárez family and the cliché ridden media English of the newscasters. These two “dialects” also differ in
another crucial sense—one is the private language of love, duty, and tradition; the other is the public language of hyperbole and manipulation.

Although "The Cuban Swimmer" employs the visual potential of theatrical spectacle, the play centers on language. Significantly, one does not need to know Spanish to enjoy the play (although a sizable portion of the text is in Spanish). Sanchez-Scott carefully positions the Spanish so that an English-speaker can guess most of it from context while still experiencing the cultural richness of the characters’ bilingual existence.

There is so much family drama going on in The Cuban Swimmer that a sharp reader might meaningfully examine almost every relationship—across generations, across genders, across cultures. At the center of the family drama is Eduardo Suárez, whose driving ambition is for his daughter Margarita to achieve athletic fame and success. As both her coach and father, he projects his own complex set of needs and desires (as father, immigrant, and exile) on Margarita.

The ending of The Cuban Swimmer is greatly symbolic. The play has flirted with symbolism from the opening (in a dozen details from the generically named Abuela to the religious prayers and oaths said by the family), but now it unfolds into a sort of Magic Realism. Pushed by her father past endurance, Margarita seems to drown. She certainly disappears. But, shemiraculously reappears on the breakers off Santa Catalina to win the race. 

The Cuban Swimmer explores the fundamental question of
identity; one’s own image of “self,” how that “self” is defined and how that self-identity is tested. It’s about the loss of dignity and confidence in oneself and how that affects self-image. The play is driven by the emotional, physical, and spiritual survival of a family whose hopes and dreams have been undermined by a callous external world. Despite the dangers and hardships of the open sea, the real battle lies within the family itself; especially when their image of “self” is shattered.

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