Nairoby Otero grew up in New Orleans and attended Cabrini High School. Her parents met in New Orleans, but both had emigrated from Cuba and her family still speaks Spanish at home. When it came time for her quinceanera, the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday common in many Spanish-speaking countries, the family was divided.
“I didn’t want a big quinceanera, but I was the first grandchild,” Otero says. “I knew I had to have one. I didn’t have the courage to say to my mom that I didn’t want one, because it was a big thing for my family, so the compromise was that we would have a huge party. I would wear the dress, and I would have a dance with my godfather and my stepdad.”
It took place at the Elks Lodge in Metairie, and far more people attended than were invited, and they ran out of alcohol and ice, Otero says.
Otero’s “’Til Sunday” opens with its main character, Claridad, preparing for her quinceanera. For Claridad’s very traditional Cuban family, it’s a big deal, especially because they have struggled to make it financially. Claridad and her mother came to the U.S. in 1971 in what were known as the Freedom Flights, which transported Cuban refugees to Miami. They moved to New Orleans, where they connected with the local Cuban community and found comfort in Cuban and Latin music, which fills the show. Her father, Jesus, stayed behind. During her childhood, Claridad’s mother talked to him by phone every Sunday and sent money to support their extended family, while they waited to be reunited.
The story is not autobiographical but is based on various experiences of Cuban Americans, Otero says. In the play, Pepe, an older Cuban man, is a friend of the family. He smokes cigars, teaches Claridad to play dominoes and rants about Fidel Castro and Communist Cuba. He also represents some of the enduring uncertainty for a generation of Cubans living in America.
“For Cubans in their seventies, coming to this country was supposed to be a temporary move,” Otero says. “They thought eventually Castro would be gone and they’d go back.”
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“’Til Sunday” is Otero’s first solo show. She developed it in her home in New York, where she acts onstage and in film and writes. She debuted the show in 2016 at the Hollywood Fringe festival, and it was nominated for best solo show. She wasn’t surprised that audience members who came to the U.S. from Cuba and Latin American countries approached her after performances to share their stories. But the show had broad appeal and ran for one month, she says.
“L.A. proved the show had legs,” she says.
Then she was asked to bring it to Miami’s GableStage, where it sold out.
Its local premiere at Southern Rep will be Otero’s first professional performance in New Orleans. The Cuban community is smaller than when her parents and grandparents arrived, Otero says. Some of the immigrants found New Orleans’ winters too harsh and moved to Florida, Otero says. But she says the third phase of the production and the local test is one of heart.
“My family will get to see it and I’ll know somebody in every audience,” she says.
After the run, she will start working on making the show’s debut in New York.
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