Castro's Beard returning to Divadlo Kampa

As global tensions heat up this look back at the Cold War becomes relevant

The dark-suited boys from the CIA are back. The once again timely comedy Castro's Beard will be reprised at Divadlo Kampa on Nov. 9, 10 and 11.

The play takes place at the height of the Cold War, and the currently rising global tensions and the renewed threat of nuclear war put the ideas of misguided US intervention back into the spotlight.

Back in the Cold War, there was a real CIA plot to attack Cuban leader Fidel Castro's beard, and it wasn't the only anti-communist plot. That is the basis of the satirical play Castro's Beard, which has been on stage in New York, the UK and Poland. It was at Prague's Divadlo Kampa in June for two sold-out shows.

The play by Brian Stewart stars local actors Dan Bradford, Jake Zahradnik, Curt Matthew and Anthony Mašek, and is directed by John Malafronte.

The play's satire is very broad but actually sticks close to the truth of several CIA plots that have been revealed over the years. The actors never let on that the ideas to overthrow Castro are absurd. The humor comes from this straight-faced approach. There is a bit of slapstick and physical humor to keep the play from getting too dry. The CIA is much less glamorous in this play than it is in spy films. The idea slowly becomes clear that it is a bunch of unqualified people who collectively can barely manage to plug in a slide projector, and yet would take in themselves to overturn foreign governments.

The plot is simple. Castro addressed the UN in New York in September 1960. Before his visit, the four CIA operatives in the play brainstorm ideas about how to destabilize the Cuban regime. Their objective is to come up with 10 plausible ideas to harm or discredit Castro that won't implicate the US government. All the ideas in the play were really suggested, but not on the same day as in the play.

The action takes place in a rather drab room as the quartet use flip charts and other old-school technology to plan an event that would change the course of history.

The play was first performed in 2001, before the US made efforts at normalizing relations with its island neighbor. Those efforts now have had a setback under the current administration.

“The play is set just before the presidential election in 1960 when Kennedy came to power and ushered in a new, younger and fresher hopeful kind of politics. … It is was also at the end of the McCarthy period paranoia,” playwright Stewart told Prague TV before the first staging. Senator Joe McCarthy led the anti-communist witch hunts.

Stewart first heard of the CIA plots against Castro in a BBC Documentary. He felt the idea was more like a Marx Brothers movie script than reality.

“The extent of [the CIA's] malicious intentions were revealed in a report made public in 1975 by the Senate intelligence committee entitled 'Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders.' It was this report that included details of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders that led President Gerald Ford to issue an executive order in 1976 banning assassinations by U.S. agencies; a ban that remains in place despite calls in the wake of 9/11 to have the ban lifted,” Stewart said in notes for the play.

Castro came to power in 1959 by overthrowing a dictatorship that was friendly to the US and replacing it with a communist regime that nationalized US-held industries there. The US enforced sanctions against Cuba and stopped all imports. Cuba then turned for help to Russia and China.

The US, since the end of World War II, sought to stop the advance of communism at all costs. This led to the desire to contain Cuba before the rest of Latin America followed the same path, according to the popular domino theory of the 1960s.

The events parodied in Castro's Beard are among the efforts to stop the dominoes from toppling.

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