'Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!': An immigrant's tale of coming to America

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On the edge of Manhattan's garment district, in a nondescript building, up a creaky elevator to the sixth floor is a tiny theater, Stage Left Studio.

Here Jay Alvarez performs "Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!" The one-man, autobiographical show, about escaping from Cuba as a boy, that heads to Los Angeles' Theatre of Note on Thursday, June 16.

Anguished over General Batista's takeover, followed by Fidel Castro's rebels, his father carefully plotted an ingenious escape for the family and friends. Alvarez, moves seamlessly between Spanish and English, the voices of his mother and father, as he tells his family's story.

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With no intermission, and only clever lighting, sound effects, a few props pulled from his pockets -- and one hat from the Carmen Miranda house of millinery -- the show is bare bones, which is to be expected in a theater with 30 seats. It's also earnest and good and has potential to be great.

At one hour, the play is too short to have a section where lines are repeated. And, it's a little uneven with the most interesting part toward the end.
 
But it's a brave story and a celebratory one, and one that deserves to be told and heard. The title refers to the family's adventure that started on the moonless night of March 16, 1964. Then they left their beaches, food and music. As all immigrants know, the old country is always with them.

"My warm, sexy, sultry island," Alvarez says, "she is in me, but I could not be there any more than I could climb back into my mother's womb."

He tells of how his older brothers were sent first - part of 14,000 children sent away by desperate parents - and how his mother agonized over sending her sons to some strange place called Wichita.

Alvarez tells of an island that was paradise for some; how "The Tropicana set the standards for cabarets from Paris to Vegas" and here he uses his tutti-frutti hat. He was a toddler when his family knew they had to leave.

After much careful planning, the family set out on the boat, the boat in which he had to be careful or the sharks would eat him. Of course we know that his family was successful; he's here. 

"We will never be able to repay this country," says Alvarez, a beautiful blend of Cuban and American.