By Colin Douglas
Destiny of Desire, a frivolous, frothy melodrama, is playwright Karen Zacarias’ festive response to and a celebration of the unbridled popularity of those over-the-top telenovelas that inhabit the television airwaves.
It’s a jubilant collaboration by Hispanic theatre artists, both onstage and behind the scenes, that reflects our country’s growing interest in all things Latin. Much like the Bollywood film industry, the telenovela is synonymous with the people it features, the culture it portrays and the audience it entertains. Spanish-speaking viewers adore these glossily-produced soap operas and, increasingly, so does the rest of the world. Now this telenovela for the stage can be enjoyed by one and all in this entertaining theatrical production.
One night during a violent storm, in the fictional Mexican city of Bellarica, two mothers give birth to baby girls. One woman is from the richer side of town, the Zocalo. She’s audacious, affluent Fabiola Castillo, the trophy wife of wealthy casino owner, Armando Castillo. However, Fabiola’s baby is born small and sickly. She would be embarrassed to present this child to her influential husband, although the man could easily afford to provide the little girl with the necessary healthcare.
At that very same moment, Hortensia del Rio, loving wife of poor farmer Ernesto del Rio, gives birth to a fine, healthy little girl. Hearing of this, Fabiola persuades the corrupt Dr. Jorge Mendoza to switch the two babies, so that she can present Castillo with an untainted daughter. She callously convinces the doctor that the del Rios wouldn’t miss this child if she died, and Hortensia will probably have more kids, anyway. There’s also some hush money that might exchang hands, should this switch-a-roo take place.
Of course, that’s only the beginning of and the setup for the rest of this wild, wacky play with music. New characters from the past constantly turn up, complications continually arise and, in the midst of a myriad plot lines, there are songs, dance breaks and melodic musical interludes. Eleven multitalented actors play all the roles, including acting as the stagehands who focus the spotlights and speedily shuttle scenery and set dressing on and offstage.
One of the minor characters even provides all the fine piano accompaniment for everyone else. Oftentimes a melodramatic moment will be interrupted, while an actor offers an interesting statistic or tidbit of information, usually provoking much laughter. Part of the humor in these factual relays stems from the not-so-subtle references to our new president and his bizarre administrative decisions.
The show is crazy comical, colorful and continually provocative. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela, assisted by Choreographer Robert Barry Fleming and Musical Director Rosino Serrano, guides this fast-moving production and brings out the best in his gifted acting ensemble. But this truly is a play that belongs to the ladies. Ruth Livier is hysterically funny as Fabiola Castillo. She’s like Disney’s Cruella de Vil and the wicked Stepmother all rolled up into one, impeccably-dressed woman. Esperanza America is wonderful as the wealthy, sexy daughter, Pilar Castillo. She’s also an accomplished, dynamite vocal talent, who could easily star in the title role of Evita. Ella Saldana North, as Victoria del Rio, is a sweet, child-like Cinderella waif. Together these two young women carry most of the play. Evalina Fernandez manages to steal every scene she’s in as Sister Sonia, a nun working at the hospital, and who’s harboring her own secrets.
Supporting roles provide the necessary conflicts. Handsome Eduardo Enrikez plays several roles, including handsome and hunky Sebastian Castillo, the prodigal son who returns to stir up the emotions of the ladies (and who also possesses a fine singing voice). Maurico Mendoza and Elisa Bocanegra nicely play the del Rios, the poor couple who love each other and only want the best for their beautiful, terminally ill daughter.
Castulo Guerra is appropriately gruff and arrogant as wealthy casino owner Armando Castillo. Crooked Dr. Jorge Mendoza is played with gleeful mischief by Ricardo Gutierrez while his kindly, admirably moral, handsome son, Dr. Diego Mendoza, is nicely portrayed by Fidel Gomez.
Zacarias’ highly entertaining play, populated with so many hilarious and lovable characters and peppered with toe-tapping Latin music and spicy choreography, has an abundance of memorable moments to savor. Once audiences, especially those unfamiliar with the TV genre, settle into the tongue-in-cheek style, the cheesy, melodramatic, over-the-top presentation, the outlandish characters and the priceless plot twists that come faster than the strumming fingers of a mariachi band, they’ll become new fans of the telenovela.
Viva Destiny of Desire!
Goodman Theatre in association with South Coast Repertory, presents “Destiny of Desire” through April 16 in Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Additional reviews by Colin Douglas may be read. at theatreinchicago.com.