The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Act 1 opens in December, 1999, in Federico’s New York apartment. Federico, like Eduardo Machado himself, was one of the 14,048 children of Operation Pedro Pan, a secret operation administered by Roman Catholic charities with support from the U.S. government. Cuban parents sent unaccompanied children to Florida between 1960 and 1962, fearing that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro would take legal custody of them and indoctrinate them to be obedient communists.

Fred enters; they are going to visit Federico’s native Cuba together, after thirty-eight years of exile since his parents sent him to the United States. Federico is reluctant and explains the angst of the exile: “Disoriented or unrequited? I do not know the answer to that. Was I thrown out or did I walk away from my country? Did I decide to leave or was I tricked?”

In Havana, Cuba, Federico is nervous as they ride in a cab driven by Ernesto, who provides political and historic context for their conversation. Ernesto asks, “So you went on the Peter Pan flights?” He explains to Fred, “So many kids, thirteen thousand. Sent to the U.S. Like cattle, all because of a CIA plot. . . . ” Ernesto loves Cuba but not the American “imperialists,” and he blames the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the exodus of those children. Ernesto is pleased about the easing of travel restrictions that Castro calls “family reconciliation,” but Federico replies that it is more like “dollar reconciliation.”

They search for the house of Federico’s early childhood. Federico and Fred play with a video camera, quoting the lines of the character Blanche...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Many drama reviewers noted that the characters in this play represent nations: Fred is the American, Ernesto is the Cuban, and Federico is the exile, belonging to both. However, they are not merely representative figures, because this is an autobiographical play. If it had been written in three acts, the characters would be more rounded, but Machado sought simplicity, a wise decision considering that the play is talky without any real action. Likewise, his setting is simple. The only props are Fred’s video camera, a poster of Elián González, and the cigarettes that the men smoke. Fred’s anxiety to videotape their journey provides the most delightful moments of the play; it allows us to see the friends laughing and enjoying each other’s company, whereas most of Havana Is Waiting is ridden with angst.

Because the set is minimalistic, the audience focuses entirely on the three characters and the emotions they express. The fourth man of the dramatic production, the percussionist, never speaks. He is usually situated above the stage and provides accompaniment to the dialogue in the form of sensuous Latin drumbeats. Many plays use incidental music—music, that is, which complements the incidents—but Machado’s choice of a single drummer was inspired.

To read the play is less satisfying than to see it staged live, because Machado forgoes the use of commas and complete sentences, and occasionally he breaks up a single sentence in two, as when Ernesto says, “Because in Marxism. Logic is God.” A person must be talented at inventing voices in his or her own head to enjoy the experience of reading it, but with that talent will find a poetry and rhythm that match the drumbeats of the dramatized version. The characters occasionally speak in Spanish, but Federico translates most of these lines.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brantley, Ben. “Eduardo Machado: Creator of a Paradise Lost.” New York Times Magazine, October 23, 1994, 38.

Cox, Gordon. “Talk, Talk, Talk On a Trip to Cuba.” Newsday, Oct 25, 2001, B8.

Machado, Eduardo. “Thirteen Commentaries.” American Theatre 14, no. 5 (May 1, 1997): 14.

Spencer, Stuart. “Interview with Eduardo Machado.” BOMB 30 (1990): 26-28.