“Skin of Honey” Blends Politics and Lesbian Romance

Out lesbian playwright Odalys Nanin is on the phone, telling me about the subject of one of her upcoming theater productions. Like so many of Nanin’s projects, it’s a woman-centered story. This one, she tells me, will be about a 17th-century nun who fought in the Spanish army disguised as a man, was blessed by the Pope, and, most miraculous achievement of all, stayed a virgin the entire time.

"How do you do that riding horses?" Nanin wonders aloud. She’ll figure it out. She’s writing the play herself.

Nanin has a resume almost as interesting as the nun she’s telling me about. In addition to writing plays, she acts, directs, produces and makes films, among other artistic endeavors.

Nanin currently calls Los Angeles home, and her latest play, Skin of Honey/Piel de Miel, is now enjoying a limited run at MACHA Theatre Company in West Hollywood. Skin of Honey traces the enduring romance between two Cuban women whose lives were disrupted by the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Prior to Skin of Honey/Piel de Miel, Nanin received critical acclaim for her play Garbo’s Cuban Lover, about notorious lesbian womanizer Mercedes de Acosta. Nanin also made a short film of Garbo’s Cuban Lover to promote her screenplay for a feature-length film. Though she has had the opportunity to turn one of her plays into a feature, she ultimately rejected the deal because of "the way it was going to go down."

Nanin’s plays Love Struck, The Nun and the Countess and Beyond Love have also dealt with lesbian topics. Along with Garbo’s Cuban Lover, The Nun and the Countess was chosen as One of the Best Ten Plays by The Advocate. She is currently working on a new play, titled Strawberry Girl, about a lesbian mother dealing with addiction.

But the debut of Skin of Honey/Piel de Miel is more than just another play premiere for Nanin. She not only wrote, produced, directed and acts in the play, she also leased and renovated the theater it’s performed in. When the Globe Playhouse, a Los Angeles landmark, was facing an uncertain future, Nanin stepped in and revitalized the theater under a new name, MACHA Theater/Films. MACHA stands for Mujeres (Women) Advancing Culture, History and Art.

Nanin has turned MACHA into a cultural center showcasing the artistic endeavors of the Latina and Latino and lesbian and gay communities. The theater experience is intimate, with just 99 seats wrapped around the stage. Because the original Globe Playhouse was created for Shakespeare productions, its design included stage balconies and faux-Tudor accents. In her renovation, Nanin has preserved these features, turning the MACHA Theatre into a hybrid cultural space. It’s Stratford-on-Santa Monica Blvd., with a Latin twist.

Her latest play, Skin of Honey/Piel de Miel follows the romance between two Cuban women, Amelia and Isabel, over a 20-year period. "It’s my first political play that includes a love story," Nanin explains.

As teenagers, the girls fall in love but find their loyalties diverging after the Bay of Pigs invasion. Tragically separated when Amelia’s family leaves for the United States, Amelia later returns to Cuba to reunite with her lost love. The women’s passion for each other is still strong, but their differing views of life under Castro threaten to drive them apart.

A Cuban native, Nanin came to the United States during the late ’60s, and she remembers what the early years under Castro were like.

Nanin wrote the first scene for Skin of Honey in 1995 after listening to a girlfriend reminisce about Cuba in the early ’60s. It started her thinking about "how you can love someone and yet have different ideals and political views." This opposition of love and belief became the dramatic conflict at the center of Amelia and Isabel’s story.

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