Two Sisters and a Piano Strikes a Discordant, Compelling Chord

Two Sisters and a Piano, premiering this week at the Miami New Drama, will hold you captive, quite figuratively and literally. In the latest drama from Miami Beach’s best theater-house, we meet two artistic sisters trapped under house arrest in Cuba.

Novelist Maria Celia (Thais Menendez) and her piano playing sister Sofia (Stephanie Machado) can hear the rumors of shifting global politics growing in 1990s Havana. However, it’s uncertain if freedom will come through government regime change, Maria Celia’s far-off deus es machina husband, or the charismatic, conniving military officer (Maurice Compte) who has finagled his way into the sisters’ lives.

Or, maybe freedom will never come? Maybe it’s not what you think it is.

Maybe freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose?

Or maybe art is enough. Maybe a fresh batch of tangerines will suffice. It’s all relative.

Miami-bred Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) explores these questions and themes.

Two Sister and a Piano Is Worth It

The play runs two hours, plus a fifteen minute intermission.

There are four actors, the two sisters on house arrest, the lieutenant, and a militia guard who also serves as a piano tuner. The set is an interior living room of a house in Havana. There is limited furniture and a piano. Hanging from the rafters are letters reflecting the correspondence between Maria and her ex-pat husband.

Maria, a well-known novelist, was arrested for her writing. Her prose was getting a little too anti-establishment and starting to cause a stir. Her sister was also thrown in jail. The play starts with the two being released into house arrest after two years in prison.  And so the slow-burn of this poetic drama begins.

At times melodramatic, Two Sisters and a Piano is as beautiful as it is scary.

The audience is quickly enamored with Maria Celia and her younger sister Sofia. They have passion, grit, hope, and spirit yet they are helplessly stuck, paranoid, frustrated.

(Not unlike the experiences of many during the pandemic).

The sisters hold on to stories and art and live through them.

And then enters Lieutenant Portuondo (Maurice Compte), the guard assigned to check in on them. He’s slick and manipulative, pretending to be an ally on one hand, but at the same time asserting his authority on the other. He has letters from Maria’s husband.

If she wants to read them,  she must do what he requests. But all he wants is to hear her tales. Her poetry. He is a fan of her writing. Always has been. Is that too much to ask?

But Maria doesn’t trust him, of course not.

At the risk of spoiling the plot, we’re going to stop.

For that is basically the premise and no more.

Two Sisters and a Piano Acting and Themes

You will enjoy the acting in this play.

Maurice Compte (Narcos, Breaking Bad) and Thais Menendez (The Bold and the Beautiful) command the room. They are forceful, tense and impossible to look away from.

The writing of the play is as beautiful as you will see in live theater.

One of Nilo Cruz’s most talented skills is his poetic license.

The writing is always romantic, dramatic, idyllic.

The surface themes of the play are easy to resonate with: entrapment, forbidden love, desire, art as an escape to freedom. But underneath the surface, the deeper themes of this play should resonate in Miami’s Cuban ex-pat community. The manipulation, the lies, the propaganda and brute force of a malicious regime that is impossible to trust.

Two Sisters and a Piano, although slow at times, is sexy, tense and dramatic.

It is a wonderful piece of theater.

Two Sisters and a Piano

Now playing until February 18th at the Miami New Drama on South Beach’s Lincoln Road.

For more info and tickets click here.

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor at Miami Dade College.