Inside the Play

The New Production of Amparo is True Interactive Theater

By Doreen Hemlock

May 2019

Forget about sitting and watching the stage at the theater production of “Amparo,” the story about the Cuban family behind Havana Club rum. Instead, wear comfortable shoes, because you’ll walk between rooms, dance to live music, stand to drink cocktails and maybe crouch to witness a firing squad.

Actors lead audiences through separate tracks in “Amparo,” each telling the family story from a different viewpoint and asking their group to make distinct choices. In one scene, our group entered a garden where an elegant woman sat on a ledge, desperate, jewelry in hand.

“Help me bury these family heirlooms,” she begged. The revolutionaries were coming. Some in our group dug in the dirt to help her. Suddenly, the woman’s manicurist appeared, saying she’d heard jewels had been hidden, stolen from the Cuban people. “Is there more?” she asked us accusingly, after unearthing a pearl necklace. I opted for silence.

Spirits giant Bacardi, which runs its North American headquarters from Coral Gables, came up with the idea for the show. The company makes the Havana Club brand from the recipe of Cuba’s Arechabala family in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (A Cuban government joint-venture makes its own version of Havana Club in Cuba.)

Bacardi had first proposed a short play to be performed in bars and restaurants. But what has developed is a 90-minute “immersive theatre” experience, complete with 23 actors, four musicians and two dancers, all Cubans or Cuban-Americans, many of them tops in their fields. Written in English with some Spanish dialogue, it’s a tale of love, loss, prayer, migration and resilience – clearly a Cuban diaspora story, but also one that deeply engages you in the emotions of immigrants everywhere.

Amparo runs through June 2 (perhaps longer) at a villa at 221 NE 17th St. in Downtown Miami. Tickets are $89, which includes parking and cocktails. Cast includes Hector Medina, star of the award-winning Cuban film “Viva;” Roberto Torres, singing his decades-old hit “Caballo Viejo;” and Jose Elias of Miami’s music group Spam All Stars. The playwright is Vanessa Garcia, author of the novel “White Light.” The play’s title comes from the name of the Arechabala family member who shared her story from Miami, and in Spanish, means “shelter.”