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Cuban-Canadian finds inspiration in family's revolutionary past

In Hamilton playwright Radha Menon latest play, Carla Garcia plays a woman torn between the interests of her mother and her own young love, set in the middle of the Cuban Revolution. She has a lot to draw her inspiration from -- her grandfather was part of the revolution.

Garcia's grandfather 'was an undercover revolutionary'

Carla Garcia as Hermosita in "Rise of the Prickly Pear" (Red Betty Theatre)

For actor Carla Garcia, there was ample inspiration for her role in the Rise of the Prickly Pear. It's in her bloodline. 

In Hamilton playwright Radha Menon's latest play, Garcia plays a woman torn between the interests of her mother and her own young love, set in the middle of the Cuban Revolution. 

Garcia is a Cuban-born Canadian, but it's not just her birthplace that provided a deep pool of inspiration for the role. It's more to do with the man who pulled her first tooth. 

Speaking with CBC Radio's As It Happens Wednesday, Garcia said her grandfather, Luis Carlos Garcia, was not just a dentist, but he had another role as well.

"He was an undercover revolutionary," Garcia said. According to Garcia, her grandfather helped make forged documents, funnelling people in and out of the country, including helping Che Guevara find safe passage out of an African war into Bolivia. 

The play, meanwhile, uses the time period in which her grandfather worked undercover as the backdrop for a love story. 

In Prickly Pear, Garcia is a naive ballet dancer who has been groomed for marriage. Her mother is advocating for a wealthy general to be her husband, while her own love belongs to a young man, without the general's wealth. 

"I think people really love the history of Cuba, and I think people really love the attitude Cubans have," Garcia said. "But its also very emotional and very personal."

"More than a historic piece, it's very human and very emotional. and I think we like to see plays or movies where actors are honest and human and we can relate to them."

As for her grandfather, who is still alive at 96-years-old, she said she has been speaking more with him, hoping to have his books on the revolution translated to English. As for her role, she said her grandfather is excited.

"Mostly because I'm working," she joked. 

The play has finished its Hamilton run but will play Thursday and Sunday night in Toronto at The Box (89 Niagara Street), beginning at 8 p.m. Admission is $25 at the door.

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