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“Go to Cuba!” went one counterdemonstration chant during last weekend’s anti-globalization protests—probably not meant as a tourism tip. For the reason not, turn to Gala Hispanic Theatre’s new production of El Lugar Ideal (“The Ideal Place”), a flan-light satire about privation, prostitution, and desperate entrepreneurship in today’s Havana. Playwright Hector Quintero, who writes in Cuba for TV and radio as well as the theater, proves that it takes either great skill or great insensitivity to turn disfigurement and sleeping on the floor with roaches into a sitcom. (The play sold out its 1998 Havana premiere run, but maybe everyone there was in on the joke.) The family of El Lugar Ideal—Cristina (Ediza Vega), Pablo (Hector Diaz), and their grown son Homero (Harold Ruiz)—has just exchanged its comfy rural house for a shabby urban apartment whose one bedroom Homero wants to rent to tourists in exchange for hard currency. Like most lives in Cuba, theirs are bleakly Dickensian: No one is able to do the work he trained for, with architect-turned-cabbie Pablo disabled after a car crash and Homero practicing magic tricks instead of industrial design. (He’s down to a few basic illusions after the family had to eat his dove and rabbit.) Unfortunately, their first boarder, Isabel (Eva Salvetti), couldn’t be more obnoxious. A loud lefty librarian from Argentina who’s in “involuntary sexual retirement,” she exalts the revolution while indulging in stereotypical Buenos Aires snobbery. “What a history,” she sighs about her country’s many strong-arm governments. “And that’s despite us being more European than Latin American.” Isabel hails from the same region as Che Guevara, and she bristles at the suggestion she’s in Cuba to look for a little companionship. “I came for an ideal!” she protests. “How conceited! Not even if Cuban men’s dicks were made of gold!” But after she swoons for her male tour guide, a week’s vacation becomes a month and she has to engage in a little gold-digging herself. Quintero’s script tosses off references to Borges and the blindness of Homer, so audience members who rely on the simultaneous English translation (by Charles Becker) might suspect that El Lugar Ideal is wryer and more nimble than the flat-footed dialogue they’re hearing. Or perhaps not: Ayun Fedorcha’s high-key lighting makes Matthew Soule’s set look as if Ray Romano might be moving in, and director Hugo Medrano encourages a barn-broad acting style that verges on mugging. (The program notes that Quintero specializes in sainete, a type of one-act comedy that often contains music and farce.) Of the cast, Ruiz’s Homero is the best, a man of chiseled handsomeness who pulls off his role as a boyish schemer. Diaz’s grumpy old Pablo does a very good Jack Lemmon, and Salvetti’s Isabel goes from owlish book-sorter to tipsy libertine without much strain. Vega’s Cristina is less successful as a Panglossian novelist who’s always quick with an annoyingly inspirational maxim. Passages from her latest effort, about an unemployed waiter who’s searching for a new restaurant called El Lugar Ideal, are read during scene changes as if to counterpoint the action. But though Quintero surely intended the absurdly cheery ending of his play as ironic, Medrano plays it straight—a less-than-ideal choice for theatergoers who might know Cuba only through other people’s slogans.—Robert Lalasz