Castro's Beard will be at Divadlo Kampa

One of the most curious incidents of the Cold War is still relevant today

Back in the Cold War, there was a real CIA plot to attack Cuban leader Fidel Castro's beard. That idea has been turned into a satirical play by that has been on the stage in New York, and has had more than 200 performances worldwide including a UK tour.

Castro's Beard, by Brian Stewart, will be at Divadlo Kampa for two shows on June 16 and 17. It stars local actors Dan Bradford, Jake Zahradnik, Curt Matthew and Anthony Mašek, and is directed by John Malafronte.

Fidel 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 that won't implicate the US government.

“It is a satirical comedy that looks at the actions of the CIA and about the US approach to foreign policy. Interestingly, a lot of what the characters discuss in the play is relevant today; we saw the drive for regime change in Iraq and Libya but the consequences are not always what politicians think about. They work in the short-term and believe that great things can be achieved just by dropping a few targeted bombs,” playwright Stewart told Prague TV.

The play was first performed in 2001, before the US made efforts at normalizing relations with its island neighbor.

“The play is set just before the presidential election in 1960 when Kennedy came to power and usherd in a new, younger and fresher hopeful kind of politics for many people in the US and the world. It is was also at the end of the McCarthy period paranoia,” he added. Senator Joe McCarthy led the anti-communist witch hunts.

Previous productions earned some praise. “Stewart's weapon is comedy. But his argument, that America will stop at nothing in its defiance of international law, is no different from that of Pinter in his Nobel speech,” UK paper The Guardian said.

The Birmingham Mail called it an “acclaimed comedy [that] chronicles the more bizarre of America's attempts to kill the Cuban leader Fidel Castro — including filling his shoes with poison and inventing an exploding cigar.”

The New York Times praised the off-Broadway production as a “mordant, irreverent comedy that was timely and thought-provoking.”

David Soul of TV show Starsky & Hutch appeared in the play at a staged reading in London.

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 was 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 Russian aid, of course, had an ulterior motive; Russian nuclear ballistic missiles didn't have sufficient range to hit the cities on the East Coast of the US so they needed to build missile silos closer to the US and, given its proximity to the US, Cuba was ideal. Hence by driving the Cubans into the arms of the Soviets, the US brought the world to the brink of annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962,” Stewart said.

The US, since the end of World War II, sought to stop the advance of communism at all costs. This also meant rooting out “fellow travelers” at home. “It was in the 1950s America that the hunt for 'Reds under the bed' began in earnest following the libelous and often untrue rantings of a senator from Wisconsin called Joe McCarthy who gave the word McCarthyism to the English Language. His wild accusations led to the general belief that the US was full of subversive communists, many of whom had infiltrated Hollywood and some of the highest offices in the land. A panic swept across America,” he said. McCarthy's power began to decline once he spread his accusations too far and began going against people with real power.

“But by then the damage had been done to many lives and careers, and a legacy of communist subversion and suspicion remained in the US up until the collapse of communism in Europe. It is against this backdrop that Castro’s Beard is set,” he added.

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