Two River Theater

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Nilo Cruz

What inspired you to write Two Sisters and a Piano?

The play is loosely based on the life of Cuban writer and activist Maria Elena Cruz Varela, who wanted changes and operated as an anti-Castro revolutionary within the system during the 1990’s. The moment in her life that most resonated with me was when the military went to her house, dragged her into the middle of the street and forced her to eat the manifesto her group had written. I was dumbfounded by the violence and humiliation inflicted upon her. In this play, I added the second sister to complement her – an artistic voice expressing the power of literature – the power of the word – and its seductive charm.

The play also comes from a moment in my own life in 1991. I was in Morocco, at a bar in Tangier when I heard about the dismantling of the Soviet Union. I immediately called my mother to ask, “What about Cuba?” Like the two sisters, Cuba is far from the rest of the world – isolated, with no access. Alone.

Why should audiences come see Two Sisters and a Piano?

The play is ultimately about the power of imagination and the power of literature. Both offer such possibility to all of us. This play, which is one of my early ones, is almost a seed for my later play, Anna in the Tropics (Pulitzer Prize). The themes are repeated: How do we escape oppression? How do we use imagination to save ourselves, and keep our hope intact? What happened to Cuba in 1991 is still happening in Cuba – people want more freedom, and continue to search for a better place. Given our recent time in isolation because of Covid, aren’t these feelings we are all experiencing?

What is one of your favorite moments in the play?

At one point the lieutenant says to the main character, “I want to help you to stop waiting.” This, in my opinion, is love. In many ways, love is so remedial, but it helps us get to another place – embracing who we are and what comes with love. And what is the remedy for stopping the waiting? Loving energy that embraces reality – the salvation of waiting is faith in the intangible. And that’s theatre. All our lives, we’re taught not to cry or laugh too loudly, but theatre finally gives us the permission we desperately crave. Like the two sisters in my play, finally we can escape our own house arrest and free ourselves. This is why I’m in the theatre.



Although trapped under house arrest, novelist Maria Celia and her sister Sofia can still hear the rumors of shifting global politics growing in 1990s Havana. As they await changes for Cuba as well as changes to their situation, it’s uncertain whether freedom will come through government regime change, Maria Celia’s far-off husband, or the charismatic military officer who has begun insinuating himself into the sisters’ lives. A passionate tale of revolution, art and dreams written by Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics).