Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Drama: Two Sample Reviews

Latina Review

There’s a line to offend everyone in Enrique Urueta's “Learn to be Latina.” 

A play that carefully and hilariously teeters on the brink of our comfort zones about racial stereotypes, Latina is filled to the brim with witty one-liners that causes the (although you give complete performance details later, right here give me brief information, particularly its Berkeley location) tiny basement theater to roar with laughter.

The storyline is a highly entertaining satirical survey of ethnic representations in popular culture. In the most ridiculous and baffling way, record industry producers try to turn a mopey singer-songwriter, Hanan (Carlye Pollack), into a Latina superstar.

There’s only one problem: Hanan is in no way Latina—she is Lebanese.

The three industry drones, sensibly named Bill, Will and Jill (Andrew Calabrese, Jon Nagel, and Emily Rosenthal), explode in synchronized horror upon extracting this information from Hanan during a seemingly routine interrogation session. After making bomb-dropping sound effects and collapsing onto the floor for fear that Hanan was going to be a suicide bomber, they come to their senses to realize the only way she can be  marketable is by simply changing her ethnicity. No big deal. 

Shakira and Salma Hayek, they say, are both Lebanese and Latina. Yet, at some point, the mixed race concept fades into the background and into the foreground we see the transformation of the singer-songwriter from the unmarketable Hanan to the pop Latina superstar Hanán.

In order to officially seal the ethnic gap, in arrives the record company’s “ethnic consultant,” Mary O’Malley (Melanie Salazar Case). Case’s performance is boisterous, rowdy and infectious stage persona(s) that makes you forget you are in the basement of a pizza parlor and someone just spilled some beer on your shoes.

Though her performance is by no means polished, her stage presence far surpassed any of the other actors, and when her voice fills the room with her various obnoxious accents, including that of the glorified sock-puppet Latin expert, Calcetina, she commands the small, awkward stage with ease.

Yet, as much as I appreciated Calcetina’s quick wit and sassy Latin vibes, it (or she) added another dimension of surrealism that was not supported by any other aspect of the play. Sure the play is full of unbelievable occurrences, the most obvious being a frail, pale white girl passing off as a Latin pop star, but the sock puppet –serving as Case’s sounding board or perhaps alter-ego -  was simply too bizarre to buy into.

Citing various conflicting sources of Latin culture, including Chiquita banana, Gloria Estefan, and J. Lo, Mary commences “Project Latina” on Hanan, with her ending up like an over-exposed, wannabe chola who still cannot get the accents quite right.

And just when you think the play is getting a little too intense, the play is relieved a number fabulous choreographed dance interludes, featuring ‘N*Sync and Shakira, that made me tear up from all the laughter.

Hanan also falls in love with the much-abused “Office Bitch,” Blanca (Marilet Martinez). The sexual tension between the duo is present since the first interaction, but Hanan initially passes on the offer. Yet, at some point in her vulnerable transformation, she finds solace in the truly Latina Blanca and a clandestine relationship ensues.

Though a same-sex relationship always proves enticing and controversial to viewers, Blanca and Hanan’s was plagued by cheesy, played-out (no pun intended) sexuality questioning lines including the classic: “So what does this mean?”

The ending of the play (????? Rephrase) gives us a generally predictable taste of humanity, with Hanan’s dignity and relationship to her former self is restored and proper humiliation is attributed to the record company employees.

Overall, the provocative, subversive, and hilarious stabs at race, gender, and sexuality all come together in the actors’ gritty performances that force the viewer to at least temporarily break down the armor of political correctness that exists in our society and allows us to laugh at very barriers that separate us all.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars for its overall entertaining qualities.

Impact Theatre, La Val's Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. $12-$20.

As an editor, Id say, Okay. This is a start. Give me another draft. When you write easily and vividly (as you do) there is sometimes a temptation to settle for the superficial and the snarky. (Cf. Maureen Dowd)

The Maids Review
            The last time I saw two sisters so ready to sexually ravage each other I was at a house party in the Mission.  Thankfully, the latter was caused by a mind-baffling concoction of drugs and alcohol.  But for the former more background; explain in the text, not just the headline that you are talking about a particular performance of a particular play, there was no excuse for the inappropriate ????? hmmmm; thats a moralistic word; is your objection to the play that it undercuts common decency and morality (and incestuous, mind you) romantic tension between the blood-bonded girls. 
            Solange (Reo Jones) and Claire (Janelle Neczypor) star together in the 19XX's I believe this date is readily available Jean Genet and who is he???? play, "The Maids."  On top of performing in this studio-rendition by whom; more background on the what/why of this performance of the popular was it? production, they successfully managed to make me squeamish in my seat.  Couldnt this be the point? Is there value in being made uncomfortable? Does it make you rethink, and possibly reinforce, fundamental notions of morality??? Are they going to make-out now?  I could never quite tell. 
            As the two servant girls played out their obscure fantasies for belittling, humiliating, and ultimately murdering their master, Madame (Layci Nelson), they had moments of sincere lust towards each other.  Whether it was the sensuous tone in their voices or the grazing of faces and hips with tight embraces, the sisters were displaying some serious lasciviousness for each other in ways that sisters are not supposed to.
            I couldn't quite decipher if the girls realized that their love was far more than sisterly, or if they were simply sexually confused and frustrated virgins looking to experiment.  It would seem possible, as they have lived in confined servant quarters together for most, if not all, of their lives.  You are now suggesting a possible thread of meaning a viewer might consider. Now play the intellectual a bit. What value, if any, lies in a work of art that caused at least one playgoer (you) to analyze its action thus. Engage with the play. Take it seriously. This is a famous/infamous play by a famous/infamous playwright. Varea would not have chosen it unless he thought it had weight and value. Search for that value before you dismiss it. They dream of milkmen but only have access to each other. 
            During the play Claire shouts: "we shall be that eternal couple, Solange, the two of us, the eternal couple of the criminal and the saint."  In response, Solange comforts and soothes Claire, by caressing and kissing her legs and feet.  I'm not sure if it's just me, but that is the last way that I would comfort and soothe my own sister.  And most importantly, I would never refer to us as an eternal couple! Probably safe to say this is in no way a realistic play, that it begs to be read as some kind of commentary on society at large
            All the while uncomfortable (looks were exchanged in the audience) at Solange and Claire's behavior - it was this bizarre sexual tension between the sisters that kept my attention for most of the production.  Sadly, and in no fewer words can I say that, "The Maids" is one of the driest plays provocative choice of words; what do you mean by dry? I have seen in my life. 
            I'm almost puzzled as to why Genet's "The Maids" was chosen to be the Performing Arts and Social Justice's Senior Project and directed by Roberto Varea. Ask him! I allowed you that freedom The cast is minute and the scenes are minimal.  But it is the script that is flawed.  For a thriller there was no anticipation and for a comedy there was no humor.  It was simply a mild self-liberation piece written by a man that greatly needed it himself. Provocative! But what do you mean? He was a famously out gay man. He was a petty criminal who almost went to jail for the rest of his life.
            Varea owes the success whoa! Youve been trashing the substance of the play, both its believability and its larger implications; how can it be a success??of his "Maids" not to the production itself, but to the work of Jones and Neczypor, whom delivered this piece perfectly. Hmmmm? As we noticed in comparing the film version of the play with this version, the character of Madame can be presented in very different ways. Thus, our actors need NOT have made their interaction so sexual. How then can their delivery be perfect? If I read you correctly, the play failed entirely to make sense, either in the moment or as a commentary on some human universal. Reconcile what seems to be a contradiction in your review. Their sheer commitment to the characters and their mental capacities to deliver every line was what garnered my applause.  
            As for the creepy vibes they gave me, they might as well have just made-out. 

This is a thin review. The play has many admirers. You are entitled to your own personal disquiet but take the production more seriously. Try to figure out what explains the fact it has has endured over the years. You were supposed to read - and were entitled to quote from - Jean Paul Sartre's introduction to the first published version of the play. As he points out, the play is supposed to represent the resentment the working class feels for its bourgeois masters. He says underneath the servant's smile is hatred - and freaky and pathetic desire to pretend to be the master when the master's away. And in spite of the characters' murderous - we can say revolutionary intentions - the playt does not end with the 'victory' of the struggling masses. Quite otherwise. Engage with the play's message even if you do not agree with the message or the success of the director in conveying the message.

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