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Puerto Rican Comedy Troupe Aims To Lift Up Spirits Of Those Living On, Off The Island


In Puerto Rico, there's a joke that after Hurricane Maria, it was Puerto Ricans off the island who were the ones who really suffered. After all, they could turn on the TV and see how bad things really were. Well, one of Puerto Rico's most-popular comedy troupes decided to build a show around that idea. And for the last couple of weeks, they've been touring the mainland trying to make Puerto Ricans living here feel better. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from Orlando.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Mikephillippe Oliveros is one of the founders of Teatro Breve. He says that after Hurricane Maria, so many Puerto Ricans in the U.S. posted on Facebook that they were worried sick. It was sad, yes, but the troupe also saw the makings of some good comedy in that. They put a show together - The Diaspora Redemption Tour, they called it.

MIKEPHILLIPPE OLIVEROS: Here we go to make you laugh. Don't worry about it. You know, we're all right. And this - lifting up the whole spirit of Puerto Ricans in the island and outside the island.

FLORIDO: Last night, they were in Orlando. Hundreds of people filled a hotel ballroom. The main sketch - a support group for homesick Puerto Ricans coping with nostalgia and depression over having left their island behind. There's one character, Oscar, who only left because his wife found a job in the U.S.. She misses her suntan. Then, there's Petra.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (As Petra, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Petra left the island seven years ago, but she's convinced that Hurricane Maria wouldn't have happened if she'd only stayed.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (As Petra, speaking Spanish).


FLORIDO: She says that after Hurricane Maria...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (As Petra, speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: ...Every time there's a blackout on the island, she turns off the breaker in her apartment here. Later in the group therapy session, the characters put on a Puerto Rican ballad. The goal - try to get through it without crying.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (As character, singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: They don't get very far. Troupe member Lucienne Hernandez says the show speaks to the deeper sadness you find in so many of the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who've left the island over the last decade.

LUCIENNE HERNANDEZ: Even though you're going to work or to study or to get a better opportunity, there's always that other side of leaving the island that is like nostalgic.

FLORIDO: After the show, Vivian Rivera said she loved it. First, she laughed, then she cried.

VIVIAN RIVERA: (Laughter, speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I'm going to start crying again," she says. Rivera left Puerto Rico two and a half years ago to get better medical treatment for her daughter. She'd like to go back, she says, but she can't yet. The show closes tonight with its final performance in Miami. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Orlando, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.