Playwright Barbara Lebow naturally gravitates toward historical hotspots. In last year’s Plumfield, Iraq, she explored the painful continuities and eerie disconnections between members of the American military and their families. This year, Lebow, director Risa Brainin, and an outstanding cast of UCSB’s BFA acting students present another exciting drama, one that takes place in revolutionary Cuba. La Ni±era: The Nursemaid tells the story of two displaced families-the Abelovs from Russia, and the Martinez family from Spain-as they are thrown together and then torn apart by their different responses to Castro’s regime. The setting ranges widely across time, starting in the early 20th century and shifting rapidly through the 1950s and early ’60s to the present. The intent of the play is to capture the significance of history by portraying its impact on the lives and relationships of individuals who are caught up in it. As various members of the two families are forced to choose sides in the battle between the Batista loyalists and the revolutionary Fidelistas, longstanding friendships are destroyed, but in the generation of the grandchildren, some of the original sense of solidarity between these immigrants is restored.
I spoke with director Risa Brainin at her office at UCSB.
This is the second time you’ve collaborated with Barbara Lebow. What is it about her work that you are drawn to? It’s the talent she has for achieving an alignment between the ideas in her plays and the politics and history they reference. Even without the almost prophetic timing of this show, which comes just as the United States finally is reconsidering its policies toward Cuba, The Nursemaid would still be an achievement in this regard. It demonstrates Barbara’s knack for expressing grand historical events through plays that are about personal dilemmas. This one, for instance, is about finding home, and it taps into the experience of families that have been torn apart. But it’s not just about families that have been torn apart by the Cuban revolution. It’s really for anyone who has lived with a rift that has taken more than one generation to heal.
The “La Ni±era” of the title refers to Qualiema Green’s character, a seemingly ageless nursemaid who sees it all, from the beginning up to the present. She represents a spirit of some kind working to draw back together the two families. The other actors-Charlie Faith, Matt Horn, Amanda Berning, Natasha Lloyd, and more-either play members of the two families or multiple roles. At some points, the timeframe jumps 50 years, so there have been many challenges in reconciling the sequencing. We will be working to get it right all the way until the end of rehearsal. It’s an exciting process, and very similar to what a professional company would go through in preparing a new show for Broadway.
La Ni±era: The Nursemaid will open on Friday, May 15, at 8 p.m., and runs through Saturday, May 23, at UCSB’s Hatlen Theatre. For tickets and more information, call 893-7221 or visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu.