Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You! currently in performances at MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, is a wonderful, winning one-man show written and performed by veteran stage and television actor, Jay (Jorge) Alvarez. Mr. Alvarez gives an absorbing account of his family’s escape by boat from Castro’s Cuba to Florida in 1964. In telling the story, he plays a large and varied cast of characters in addition to his own self as a 4-year old boy, including many members of his family (such as his old abuela, his endearing father Humberto, and his fiercely protective mother Chiqui) as well as neighbors, officials and well known personalities of the time period. Alvarez, an extremely talented actor, has a special ability to convey each of these characters with enormous humor and pathos.
Alvarez effectively sets the stage of his family’s dramatic escape through his father Humberto’s recounting of life in Cuba during the glamorous 1950s (including the iconic Tropicana night club) into the turbulent early 1960s, describing in particular, the events leading to the deposition of the oppressive Batista regime in favor of the initially welcomed but soon to be hated and feared Fidel Castro revolution.
Although the show’s set (made up if 2 chairs and a photographic backdrop) is very simple, between Alvarez’s vivid descriptions and the brilliant lighting by Jessica Lee Winfield and solid sound design by Kelly Ericson Harnett, the production (with strong direction by Theresa Gambacorta) is able to make you feel like you are witnessing, sometimes experiencing, the events being described onstage, including the terrifying 30-hour long boat journey. Through the power of effective storytelling, the production leaves the audience with images more vibrant than one normally takes away from a film.
Alvarez’s story is a loving tribute to his birthplace (including the music it has exported throughout the globe – Celia Cruz!), yet is also universal and distinctly American (my own grandparents came to the U.S. from Russia under very similar circumstances) and thus will appeal to the hearts of many. The highest compliment I can give this show is that it is so involving that you hate for it to end – and long to hear more about Alvarez’s family reunion with his brothers already living in America and what their new life was like in the United States.
Be careful not to miss this riveting performance by the talented Jay Alvarez at MetroStage.
Running Time: One hour and five minutes, with no intermission.
Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You! plays through April 22, 2012 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call (800)-494-8497, or purchase them online.
Read Jordan Wright’s interview with Jay Alvarez.