Friday, March 24, 2017

Fairly Melodramatic: Fun 'Destiny of Desire' Turns Telenovelas Into Theater -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Destiny of Desire
a recent play by Karen Zacarías
directed by José Luis Valenzuela
Goodman Theatre, Chicago 
Thru April 16

I appreciate myriad art forms across numerous idioms and genres.

Yet I have never watched what is possibly the world's most popular type of entertainment:

The telenovela.

I would say this is in large part because I don't speak or understand Spanish, yet I am completely comfortable watching subtitled movies of any foreign language.

But neither do I watch daytime American soap operas, which--except for continuing for decades rather than concluding after a couple hundred episodes--are said to be stylistically similar to telenovelas, hugely popular in Latin America and many other parts of the world.

Always happy for new experiences--especially those furthering my cultural awareness--and eager to see live theater broaden its demographic reach, I applaud Chicago's Goodman Theatre for staging Karen Zacarías' Destiny of Desire, essentially a 2-1/2 hour telenovela live on stage.

Photo Credit on all: Liz Lauren
Albeit with only a cursory concept of the televised form, I believe Zacarías, director José Luis Valenzuela and a Latinx cast--largely repeating their roles in Chicago after a co-production by the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, CA--have done a fine and fun job of translating the telenovela into an enjoyable piece of English-language theater.

The Prince and the Pauper-type premise involves baby daughters being switched at birth among rich and poor families in the fictional town of Bellarica, Mexico.

After the actors leisurely take the stage with the houselights up, early scenes involve scheming by one of the mothers, Fabiola (Ruth Livier)--who is married to powerful casino owner Armando Castillo (Castulo Guerra) and unwilling to reveal that her infant was born with some frailties--aided by Dr. Jorge Ramiro Mendoza (Ricardo Gutierrez) and a begrudgingly complicit nun, Sister Sonia (Evelina Fernandez).

The other parents, Ernesto and Hortencia (Maurico Mendoza and Elisa Bocanegra) are unaware of the baby swap, and most of the play takes place after the two girls--Victoria (Ella Saldana North) and Pilar (Esperanza America)--have turned 18.

Dr. Mendoza's son Diego (Fidel Gomez), who is also a doctor, and Armando's son Sebastian (Eduardo Enrikez) round out the 11-person cast of characters, aside from onstage pianist Rosino Serrano--this isn't a musical but there is a good amount of live music--who also has a small speaking role.

Even if I could accurately tell you more of the plotline machinations, I wouldn't as there is a considerable amount of humor in all the entanglements--and even a fair amount of mystery.

Far more than not I enjoyed Destiny of Desire, which makes for a robust evening of entertainment while presenting something a bit different upon the Goodman stage.

Although I tend to imagine that true telenovela aficionados would prefer prime examples on TV more than this theatrical interpretation, it's certainly possible that others--of any cultural background, but particularly those familiar with sources for Zacarías' shrewd satire--could like this show considerably more than me.

For while it made for enjoyable entertainment, with a good dollop of cultural enlightenment, it felt rather transient and even forgettable. (Without meaning to insult anyone's tastes, this is basically my perception of soap operas in general.)

And I probably would have enjoyed Destiny of Desire just as much--if not more so--if it was an hour shorter. 

For the right price on the right night (or afternoon), this unique, well-executed presentation should make for a good time.

If it brings people to the Goodman who don't often attend theater, that's even better.

But were a continuation of Destiny of Desire to be mounted in the coming months, I don't think I'd feel much need to tune in anew.

And since seeing it on Sunday afternoon, I've felt no inclination to seek out any actual telenovelas.

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