RUM & COKE, Pegasus Players. Comparing Carmen Pelaez to John Leguizamo might seem natural--and the press release for her debut performance certainly makes the connection. But though both writer-performers exploit and undermine Latin stereotypes in autobiographical pieces, at this early stage in Pelaez's career the comparison can only work to her disadvantage. Where Leguizamo's characterizations are nuanced and wildly idiosyncratic, Pelaez's are largely interchangeable; it's hard to tell the Havana prostitute Nikita from the Miami club kid Juana, or the psychic Illuminada from the washroom attendant Nena. And since Pelaez spends more than half her time presenting these characters, Rum & Coke has a generic, sketchy feel.
More problematic is Pelaez's inability to encompass multiple points of view. Though purportedly attempting to resolve her "Cuban-American identity crisis" by visiting the island nation romanticized and vilified by her expatriate parents, Pelaez creates characters who rarely depart from the "Castro ruined Cuba" line Americans have been force-fed since 1963. It's also curious that though she goes to Cuba to research the paintings of her great-aunt, Amelia Pelaez, hoping to find "her Cuba," we learn next to nothing about the woman or her art.
Pelaez is a likable performer with an appealing presence, but she needs to give her work a bit of intellectual and thematic complexity.