Collecting the dreams of many: 'Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams'
Nu's upcoming production of the spring semester takes its audience to the warmer-than-Western New York shores of Cuba, but not in a typical theatrical way. "Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams" is what's called "reader's theater," something that the Niagara University Theatre Department usually does twice a season.
The main indications of a reader's theater, in the most common interpretation, is that the actors are not in full costume but often dressed all in black. They read from their scripts rather than memorizing their lines, and the blocking is minimal, if it exists.
However, this particular reader's theatre is being directed by combat instructor Steve Vaughan, and if his rendition of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" is anything to judge from, "Hortensia" isn't going to be the average reader's theatre.
Rachel Baron, a senior theatre major playing the title role of Hortensia, laughs as she describes how Vaughan has set up the performance.
"We're having complete blocking, some memorization. ... We're using original music again. The only things we're not having are full costumes and all the lights, which is a little hard since the show is meant to be lighting heavy."
The show is partially set in memory. However, lighting options in the Castellani are minimal. Therefore, instead of using lights to indicate which scene is now and which is then, the director chose to build and utilize platforms into the existing set. The fact that the show is in the Castellani Art Museum is fitting for the "museum of dreams."
Baron was able to expand a bit on the meaning of the play.
"The Museum of Dreams was started by Mama Rita and continued through Hortensia. Basically, Hortensia was taught that if you can read your Bible and write down your dreams and miracles, you were literate," she said. Over time, word of the museum spread and people began to send in their dreams and accounts of miracles they'd known, and Mama Rita, Hortensia, and her two sons began to collect these dreams.
"It's not open to the public yet, but they'd like it to be," Baron added with a laugh.
This is where the true protagonists come in. Luca and Luciana are brother and sister, born in Cuba but shipped out on one of the "Pedro Pan" flights during the Communist takeover. After growing up in the United States, both of them find their way back to Cuba - Luciana working as a journalist chronicling the pope's visit to Cuba, and Luca as he tries to find his sister.
Eric Walsh, a senior political science major who plays Luca, - and he found it a little difficult to talk about his character's involvement in the play. "There's a major plot twist for Luca, and it's hard to discuss the story for him without giving it away," he said with a smile.
Most of Luca's time is spent trying to find Luciana, which is a bit of a "hit or miss" scenario, where even when they find each other, it's not for very long.
Walsh was willing to reveal that his character does develop a rather interesting relationship with a "lady of the night" and that there is a happy ending for Luca and Luciana - but the real twist for the plot of the play lies in why Luca and Luciana were separated in the first place after they left Cuba.
Eric Madia, a sophomore theater major who plays a few different characters in the show, offered a unique reason to come see this particular play.
"It's a very different perspective - here, we have a definitive stereotype of Cuba, but this play shows that there is a group in Cuba that isn't like that. There's a group there that stayed close to their roots - and they're not the ones we usually think of."
Baron added that the play also focuses on "the difference between political religion and ˜real' religion" and that it "really explores relationships between people - not just the relationship of a son and his mother, or of brother and sister, but even the relationships between Hortensia and the people that send in their dreams. There's a relationship there, and this is where we get to see it."