The New Yorker, February 10, 1986
"Off Broadway, Cuba Libre"
by Edith Oliver
In the satiric "Rum and Coke," at the Public, Keith Reddin tells in mock-documentary style the story of an earnest young Yale graduate called Jake, who, on the strength of one childhood vacation spent in Cuba, is recruited by the C.I.A. in 1959 to foment rebellions against Castro in Guatemala and adjacent countries.
There are twenty-one characters in the play, of whom three--Jake, his sister Linda, and a Cuban exile named Miguel, who works with Jake and becomes his dear fliend--are people; the rest are types. These types, often amusing, are familiar by now: malignant C.I.A. clowns, a barbaric, rich Fascist from the Southwest; assorted eager beavers; and figures with real names, such as Richard Nixon and Fidel himself Many of them seem to be talking in cartoon captions or secondhand synthetic speech--at times, clever, at times not.
Jokes abound, as do references to popular songs and movie casts of the period. The scenes that are truly strong are those involving Jake and Linda and Miguel, and one of the best is Miguel's speech--a comic masterpiece as delivered by Tony Plana--in which he describes to Jake with an admiration that approaches awe the sexual inventiveness of a prostitute imported into Central America by the C.I.A. The play ends, of course, with the castastrophe of the Bay of Pigs.
Peter MacNicol could not be better in the leading role, as an innocent dupe among the devious and brutal, Polly Draper is splendid, too, as his beautiful, worldly, bossy older sister; and Mr. Plana's Miguel is indelible.
As for the adventurous Mr. Reddin, he surely has one of the most vigorous imaginations among younger dramatists today, and it seems a shame to turn it loose on Nixon and C.I.A. stereotypes. Mr. Reddin's high spirits, his kaleidoscopic inventiveness belong more to fiction than to fact.
Though the factual material seems sound enough, it is prepackaged, and the cleverness of its handling, genuine as it may be, is no match for the real humor, understanding, and originality that he brings to his three completely realized characters. "Rum and Coke" seems to me several giant steps beyond Mr. Reddin's "Life and Limb," of a year ago, but I still feel that the social commentary is negligible; his creativeness is everything.
The Public's casting is, as always, impeccable. The actors, other than the three leads, appear in multiple roles, and all of them do well, under the adroit direction of Les Waters. I especially admired Frank Maraden (Nixon et al.), John Bedford-Lloyd (Castro et al.), and Larry Bryggman. The scenery, costumes, and lighting, all impressive, are by John Amone, Kurt Wilhelm, and Stephen Strawbridge, respectively.