Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Celia and Fidel
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Pass Over and The Amateurs

Marian Licha and Andhy Mendez
Photo by Margot Schulman
Celia and Fidel, in the Kogod Cradle at Washington's Arena Stage, offers an engrossing look at the rule of Cuban strongman Fidel Castro (1926-2016) at a time of stress: in 1980, when thousands of his citizens sought asylum in the Peruvian Embassy in Havana, hoping to escape to the United States, leading to what became known as the Mariel boatlift. Playwright Eduardo Machado, who was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a child, also introduces audiences to Fidel's closest advisor, Celia Sánchez (1920-1980), revered in Cuba but little known elsewhere.

Andhy Mendez plays Fidel as broadly confident but willing and eager to listen to Celia (Marian Licha), a founder of the revolutionary effort and the only person whose criticism he accepts with only minimal complaint. She is sleek, educated, and as sure of her opinions as he is of his.

Director Molly Smith's stylish production brings Fidel and Celia together with Consuela (Heather Velazquez), Fidel's young and ambitious aide, and Manolo Ruiz (Liam Torres), a former comrade of Fidel who fled to Miami after the Cuban Revolution. As they banter, argue, and try to forge policy and avert catastrophe (and bad press), they often speak in aphorisms. "Sometimes everything you want kills you," Celia says of Fidel's cigar habit, and Fidel describes being torn between advocating for the Third World and getting dragged into the First World.

While Machado is writing fiction extrapolated from historic events, his literate script touches on numerous topics, including Cuban fighters in Angola supporting a Soviet-backed government, the status of the Bacardi rum brand after the factory owners fled Cuba, and gossip about Richard Nixon—even a touch of magic realism. Fidel speaks about how much he loves "his children," but Celia points out how he doesn't want his followers to think for themselves.

Riccardo Hernández has designed a comfortable set that provides Fidel and those around him with an optimal platform to share their views. Packed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a well-stocked bar, a humidor, even a phonograph—it provides all the civilized comforts in a single space.

Arena Stage has suspended performances of Celia and Fidel because of the Coronavirus and will resume them no earlier than March 30, 2020, in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit

By Eduardo Machado
Directed by Molly Smith

Celia Sánchez: Marian Licha
Fidel Castro: Andhy Mendez
Manolo Ruiz: Liam Torres
Consuelo: Heather Velazquez