Being and Not Just Appearing

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Winter day in Havana. Photo: Caridad

On Sunday the other week, after several weekends without going out, some friends invited us to a show at the Teatro America.  This was a surprise, communicated over the phone and over lunch, that became the discovery of an atmosphere different from what we’re accustomed to in Cuban theaters.

Even when “the America” (as we call it here) is a pioneer of musicals and extravaganzas that are only attended by a segment of the population despised by the cultural elite, the theater is packed.  The applause resounds when the artists appear on stage.

On this occasion there were drag queens, so “affected” (as people say in that atmosphere) that you could hardly recognize them as men beneath their disguises if you didn’t know what was going on.  Their temperaments, hysteria, histrionics and excessive sensuality were all signs of the need for their nature to leave their bodies, mistakenly trapping them like a prison.  In short, this was an exercise in individual freedom where each person expressed it in their own way.

Amid what could be called disorder, stage chaos amid some talents mixed in with the mastery of others who have dedicated their lives to being and not simply just appearing to be on stage, one could perceive the public’s enthusiasm as they waited to enjoy a show that is presented only once a year under the name “Applauses without Borders.”

If you are a lover of the drag queen phenomena in Havana, you can normally only pursue it if you have plenty of cash in your pocket, which is to say that settings for this activity are expensive, super expensive.

It’s not an art form that would be accepted wherever it was presented, yet I wonder about my friends who are in fact followers of the genre.

Without a doubt, and despite buts, it was an unforgettable Sunday when I saw the reincarnation of “La señora sentimiento” (Elena Burke) sung by Maridalia.  Sung at times in a loud and clear voice, and at other times bending, it was belted out amid an audience that later went wild over the metaphysical song “My Way,” by Frank Sinatra.