Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba

By Fehimovic, Dunja | The International Journal of Cuban Studies, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba


Fehimovic, Dunja, The International Journal of Cuban Studies


Laurie A. Frederik, Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba (Durham, NC: Routledge, 2012) pb 360pp. ISBN: 9780822352655

Reviewed by Dunja Fehimovic

Frederik's ethnography of rural community theatre in Special Period Cuba is based on impressively thorough, detailed fieldwork carried out mainly between 1998 and 2001. The resulting narration provides valuable insight into two aspects of the Cuban nation in a moment of transition: rural life and its representations, and the hierarchies and intricate functioning of the national culture circuit. I use the term 'narration' to highlight one of the text's merits: it is well-written and highly engaging, despite the complex combination of discourses that necessarily arises from its position between the disciplines of anthropology, theatre and performance studies.

Highlighting one of the advantages of the present work, Frederik's introduction points out the paradoxical marginalisation of the rural (particularly the 'zonas de silencio' in which she carried out her fieldwork) in Cuban national culture despite the symbolic importance of the campesino at various points in the country's history. During a time of commercialisation, dollarisation and growing tourism, she suggests that the 'campo' and the 'campesino' take on renewed significance as repositories of pure Cubanness. Somewhat incompletely and less convincingly, the author claims that this can be linked to the emergence of a new model of Cuban citizenship; abandoning Che Guevara's Hombre nuevo, Cubans were now to model themselves after the Hombre novísimo: 'an urban man with campesino morals and a campesino soul; still communist in his humility and loyalty to the nation, but less aligned with a political party' and more generally patriotic and anti-imperialist (p. 14).

Setting the stage for Special Period theatre, the first chapter provides a useful account of the medium's development in Cuba. Beginning with Teatro Bufo in pre-independence Cuba, Frederik shows how its depictions of the sly 'negrito' paradoxically popularised the figure and expanded the potential definition of the future nation beyond white criollos. The Revolution outlawed such racism, instead inaugurating a Teatro Nuevo, which was to be 'an active model of utopia for the socialist system itself' (p. 49), characterised by dialectic interaction with the public, a cooperative, collective structure and a didactic, 'consciousness- raising' goal. Through the histories of Teatro Estudio to Teatro Escambray and its splinter ensembles, Frederik reveals how early Revolutionary theatre served to document and ease transition and empower campesinos, incorporating them into national dialogue. She goes on to describe the prevalence of censorship and self-censorship, focussing on the so-called 'quinquenio gris' and the notorious Padilla affair.

Jumping from one crisis to another, Chapter 3 introduces 'Opción Zero', an ominous term never discussed yet seemingly understood by all Cubans: 'the worst of what the Cuban Special Period crisis might have become' (p. …

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