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Things to Do in MiamI: “GringoLandia” at Arsht Center January 14-30, 2022

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For the Cuban-Americans who call South Florida home, Cuba remains a source of profound emotion. The island nation just 90 miles from Key West exemplifies a proud heritage, treasured memories, terrible loss, and much more.

Hannah Benitez, a Cuban-American/Jewish playwright (as well as an actor, musician, and novelist) who grew up in Miami, knows that each person’s Cuba is distinctive, that a homeland carrying so much beauty and sorrow may not resonate the same way for different generations.

That truth is at the heart of GringoLandia: A Cuban Journey, Benitez’s sometimes wild, observant, and undeniably funny world-premiere family saga. Commissioned by Zoetic Stage, the multimedia play will preview on January 13 and open on January 14 for a run through January 30 in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

The seeds of GringoLandia were planted backstage when Benitez appeared in Zoetic’s 2018 production of Fun Home as an actor. She had taken a trip to Cuba with her father the previous year and shared with artistic director Stuart Meltzer the idea that evolved into the play: A father who left Cuba as a child takes his Miami-born, twentysomething daughter and son to the island in search of a family heirloom.

“I thought she had such a gift, an understanding of how to drive the drama without forgetting about the humor, which is rare in a young writer,” Meltzer says. “She’s very dry, and you get that when she speaks. I fell in love with it and her excitement for it.”

Benitez studied playwriting in the high school program at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, under Moonlight Academy Award winner Tarell Alvin McCraney and The Royale playwright Marco Ramirez. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting from Florida State University. Now living in New York, she continues to perform (locally, her recent acting work includes the 2017 Main Street Players production of Bad Jews, Zoetic’s 2018 Fun Home, and GableStage’s 2019 Indecent), while her concurrent writing career is soaring.

Her play, The 6th, or, The Patriots, a farcical adaptation of Henry VI, is a finalist for the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries competition at Virginia’s American Shakespeare Center, and her play, Adaptive Radiation, will be presented next month at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In addition to having written ten full-length plays, she’s working on a novel with the intriguing title, Trains to Hell Go Faster.

Benitez knows, however, that doing a play about Cuba in her hometown carries particular weight.

“It’s really special to have a play done in Miami,” she says. “It does raise the stakes. It’s a very visceral subject in this town.”

GringoLandia follows the experiences — the adventures and misadventures — of a Miami Cuban-American family during a fraught trip to Cuba.

In crafting GringoLandia, Hannah Benitez drew from her own experience and observations.

Photo by Michael Eady

Father Carlos (James Puig) wants his Miami-born kids Daniel/Danny (Gabriell Salgado) and Michelle/Michi (Alicia Cruz) to better understand the place that holds so many memories and shaped his life in exile. Danny and Michi, young adults who are very much a product of their hometown, seem to be gringos out of water as they encounter a series of women (all played by Stephanie Vazquez) and the sometimes-maddening realities of life in Cuba circa 2017. Percussionist Yarelis Gandul Cabrera makes her own artful contribution to the piece.

In crafting GringoLandia, Benitez pulled from her own experience and from “other members of my family and friends who had done birthright trips to Cuba.” Her journey affected her in a variety of ways.

“It connected a lot of intergenerational behavior for me. I’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s why I act like that when I drop a glass,'” she observes. “Cuba has changed my relationship to Miami. It clarified within the first 15 minutes why Miami is the way it is, why there’s a hustle mentality – it’s the residue of survival. The sounds were familiar, too. Everybody sounds like my grandparents.”

Puig, who is making his Zoetic debut as Carlos, came to Miami from Cuba as a child. He’s never been back — “this is home to me,” he says — and after graduating from Barry University (then Barry College) and the University of Miami, he built a formidable theater career in New York (both on Broadway and Off-Broadway) and at major regional theaters, though rarely playing Latino roles.

He auditioned for GringoLandia before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and knew instantly that he wanted to be part of the world premiere production.

“I fell in love with Hannah’s play from the two small scenes I was given to prepare for the audition,” Puig says. “And auditioning for Stuart was so wonderfully unique that I vividly remember wishing and praying with tremendous intensity for God to let me work with Stuart on this play.

“That was over two years ago, and that hopeful joy of working with him on Hannah’s remarkable play has sustained me through the lonely isolation of COVID times.”

Puig calls Benitez “a major talent” and finds common ground with Carlos in the character’s love of family. Both the actor and the working-class character he plays were drawn to the world of the arts, though the paths they chose were different.

“He followed his head, whereas I followed my heart,” Puig says.

Alicia Cruz, James Puig, Gabriell Salgado, and Stephanie Vazquez journey through Cuba in Zoetic Stage’s GringoLandia.

Photo by Tony Tur

Cruz, a 2019 Florida International University graduate, can also relate to the play. Her father came to the United States in the 1960s as part of the Pedro Pan program. He returned to Cuba for a visit in the 1980s, and Cruz says the experience was bittersweet.

“Some smells and sights were the same, but the energy had changed. There was silence when he was riding on the bus. He saw lots of family members who missed and loved him, and others who didn’t want to speak to him,” she says. “There was a lot of pain. It brought back a flood of memories.”

Of her character Michi, she says, “Making the journey as the child of immigrants, you understand this place is part of your cultural identity, but you have had access to only a representation of it. It’s shocking to go to Cuba and realize your cultural armor. She begins thinking, ‘I am Cuban. It’s part of me.’ Then she comes to the hurtful realization that she’s a gringa in Miami.”

Salgado recently made his professional debut as the Creature in Zoetic’s Frankenstein. He has since regained the weight he lost to help him create a dazzling, physically complex performance that won him glowing reviews. His character in GringoLandia, Danny, is an altogether different role. But Salgado says if not for the New World School of the Arts, he could have been a guy like Danny.

“Oh, Danny is me if I’d never become an artist,” says the Miami-raised actor, who graduated from New World in 2019. “I used to be that bro. I had that energy, that complacency, that lack of ambition. If I’d never found my passion, I’d be as lost and immature.”

Just before COVID-19 hit, Salgado traveled with Meltzer, his artistic mentor, friend, and former teacher, to Cuba to experience the country and to capture photos and videos that will be used in GringoLandia. As with Benitez, Salgado found the journey transformative.

“My perception of that place was completely off. Some of the things my parents and grandparents told me just weren’t true, but they come from trauma when you’re forced to leave,” he says. “I know what it means to say I’m Cuban-American, the weight of it. It’s a beautiful place and so sad. It’s a weird dichotomy.”

In a playwright’s note at the beginning of her script, Benitez writes: “In many ways, Cuba is the antagonist of this story. Not because Cuba, nor the Cuban people, are the enemy, but because the systems of the country are what technically…provide our characters, including the Cuban-born ones, with their obstacles. Perhaps if we engage with the story keeping this in mind, we (I’m looking at you, citizens of the ‘developed world’) can fully exercise our empathy, political and global muscles. The saying goes, if you visited Cuba and had a ‘great time’…you didn’t see the real Cuba.”

In Cuba, Meltzer says, he and Salgado spoke with people all over the island to gather research and images. He, too, felt the trip was eye-opening and often found himself speaking with Cubans about their families in Miami.

“There is not a political leaning in the play. The antagonist of the play is Cuba itself,” Meltzer affirms. “So much of our community will know these people.”

– Christine Dolen, ArtburstMiami.com



GringoLandia: A Cuban Journey. Friday, January 14 through Sunday, January 30, at Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $55 and $60.

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“An Iniquitous Mishmash” At Your Service EP #26 is LIVE with Haber and Martinez

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Miami’s Community Newspapers promotes local news and events in your community to you and your neighbors. Find out what’s really happening in your neighborhood with Miami’s Community Newspapers.

Miami’s Community Newspapers services the areas of: Aventura, Biscayne Bay, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Doral, Homestead, Horse Country, Kendall, Miami Beach, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami, Sunny Isles, and West Park.

Office: 305-669-7355
Legal Notices: 305-284-7376
Advertising: 305-661-9200
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Route 664 is LIVE with host Les Winston and guests Michael Chatman & Joe Gabris from ASIB

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Miami’s Community Newspapers promotes local news and events in your community to you and your neighbors. Find out what’s really happening in your neighborhood with Miami’s Community Newspapers.

Miami’s Community Newspapers services the areas of: Aventura, Biscayne Bay, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Doral, Homestead, Horse Country, Kendall, Miami Beach, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami, Sunny Isles, and West Park.

Office: 305-669-7355
Legal Notices: 305-284-7376
Advertising: 305-661-9200
Submit a Press Release

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How to pay less property tax on your home

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How to pay less property tax on your home
Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia (left) with Hal Feldman.

It’s 2022 and still before the due date of March 1st. You owe it to yourself to make sure you are taking advantage of every property tax exemption possible. Over the years, you can save tens of thousands of dollars. I’ll start with the easiest exemption.

Homestead Exemption


Each year, January 1 through March 1, the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s office allows homeowners to file for Homestead Exemption. This valuable deduction is only for a homeowner’s primary residence and once you file, it automatically renews each year. The exemption provides a $25,000 in assessed value for all taxing authorities and another $25,000 to all tax authorities (except the School Board).

Homestead Exemption also provides an additional valuable benefit of capping the annual increase of an assessed value to 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. Over a few years, this can save a homeowner a ton of money. Just looking at 2021 where some property values increased by more than 20 percent, those Homestead Exempt properties will only see an increase in their property taxes of 1.7 percent (the 2021 CPI rate). And, just like bank interest, capping each year can have a compounding and impressive effect on your tax saving over the years.

So, for brand new homeowners or those who moved to Florida from other areas, it is critical that you file for Homestead Exemption to start your years of tax savings! You can file online at: miamidade.gov/PaPortal/AutoOnlineFile/ExemptionOnlineMainMenu.aspx

Other Exemptions


If you are already a Florida homeowner, you might have turned 65 during 2021. If so, don’t forget to take advantage of the Senior Citizen Exemption! Savings vary based on your personal situation, but they can be significant. Further, if you are 65+ and lived in the same home for more than 25 years, you would be eligible for a Long-Term Resident Senior Citizen Exemption.

If you are deployed military, have a disability, are a disabled first responder, are a widow/widower, you have some property tax exemptions you can file for as well.

The Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, Pedro Garcia, sat down with me on January 6 on “The MiamiHal Real Estate Show” at the Miami’s Community Newspaper Studios to explain all of this and more in detail. You can watch this show at: miamihal.com/the-miamihal-real-estate-show/2022/1/6/episode-47

Beyond Exemptions


There are even more savings for homeowners in Florida who want to upsize, downsize or just move within the State. Known as portability, property owners with Homestead Exemption and an accumulated SOH Cap can apply to transfer (or “Port”) the SOH Cap value (up to $500,000) to a new homestead property. This application is known as the “Transfer of Homestead Assessment Difference”, and the annual deadline to file for this benefit and any other property tax exemption is March 1st.

Portability allows you to bring the years of accumulated property tax savings along with you (at least a percentage thereof) and it is meant to provide Floridians the freedom to choose the best housing for their situation without losing the tax standing they have earned over the years of being in Florida.

The detailed explanation is longer than this article space allows, so I point you to this article on my website: miamihal.com/hals-blog/2009/10/13/property-tax-saving-mechanisms-for-floridians.html

The Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office is run more like a business than a governmental office. It allows Pedro Garcia to promise true customer service. During my show, he promised any Miami-Dade County resident that his office will answer your questions via phone on that call or get you a response within one business day. The Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office phone number is 305-375-4712 and the very helpful website is at miamidade.gov/pa/home.asp

One word of warning to heed. Garcia mentioned that the County is looking for people who are looking to defraud the State of due taxes. Penalties are stiff and his office has powerful automated tools to detect violators. “Some people make honest mistakes when initially filing or they fail to report a change that effects their eligibility,” said Pedro Garcia. “We’ll work with those people. But outright purposeful fraud will not be tolerated.”

When used right, the property tax exemptions are an incredible benefit to homeowners. Make sure you take advantage!

Real Estate Update


As of 1/7/22, there were only 64 properties for sale in Pinecrest, 27 homes pending sale and 4.2 months of inventory. This is still a Seller’s market, but not forever! If you’re ready to move, get the best local expertise, truthful guidance and realistic expectations. It’s easy to get started at miamihal.com/getstarted. I invite you to view past episodes of my The MiamiHal Real Estate Show at miamihal.com/the-miamihal-real-estate-show to hear from experts and get the latest real estate news.

Hal Feldman (MiamiHal) is a Realtor with RE/MAX Advance Realty. You can contact him with your story ideas or real estate questions at www.MiamiHal.com, Hal@MiamiHal.com or www.facebook.com/MiamiHal


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