Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Berg
August 17, 2011
Great one person shows leave me thinking this is the best way to tell this story and this is the best person to tell it. That's what I got from Jay Alvarez's Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!, one of the FringeNYC shows playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre. The story is of the Alvarez family's perilous flight from Communist Cuba in 1964. Despite being 4 years old at the time, no one else could tell this tale like Jay Alvarez does and he does so with skill and heart.
That's not to say he doesn't have help. Alvarez, like the characters in his story, receives some essential assistance. The play was developed and directed by Theresa Gambacorta who sails Alvarez's passionate, loving performance through tight and suspenseful pacing. The sound design from Kelly Ericson Harnett deserves special mention, too, for transforming the bare stage into the Tropicana and an open boat on the Caribbean sea with music, waves and whispers.
There are no literal sharks in the story but there are figurative sharks. They are Fidel Castro and the Communists, who show their blood-thirsty natures once they take power in Cuba, and the Alvarez family's own neighbors and friends who may be spies for that government. The story of the refugees' escape from Cuba is fraught with circling danger and desperate split-second decisions to escape being eaten.
While Alvarez is our guide, embodying many characters from his family and friends, the central plot of the story is told from the point of view of Alvarez's father, Humberto. This is appropriate and affecting as Humberto's the real heart and hero of the story. He's the mastermind and leader of the group's escape.
Imagine leading 24 of your immediate family and closest friends in a dangerous escape. In the middle of the night you load them into overcrowded boats out to sea and away from their beloved home and the rest of their family and friends. Their lives are in your hands. I don't know if I could do what Humberto Alvarez did. As he tells us, he wasn't given the luxury of doubt. His son Jay lets us experience the danger and fear through Humberto's eyes as he's confronted with choices that decide his family's and friends' fate.
Humberto's actions are heroic but he never asks to be a hero. He simply hopes for a better life for his family and friends. Jay Alvarez doesn't ask us to see his family as heroic, either. Maybe because after Fidel, one doesn't trust heroes. Alvarez tells Cuba's and his family's story, simply and effectively, without plays for glory or reverence. This makes Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You! a powerful communal experience.