note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Last week, at Company One and Phoenix Theatre Artists’ Boston premiere of Enrique Urueta’s “Learn to be Latina,” it was announced Phoenix Artistic Director/Director Greg Maraio was suddenly replacing star Crystal Lisbon, last minute. Lisbon left the show due to illness,and Maraio, unable to find an immediate replacement who could learn Lisbon’s challenging dual role in three days, was faced with closing the show or taking the role himself. Since the show was slated to close June 5 anyway, and deft director Maraio had already memorized the role, he jumped in - with both feet, in both roles - and saved the show.
He portrays Los Angeles recording company Funky Artist Development (FAD), executive, Mary, M.A. Ph.D. Harvard grad, whose Dublin Irish brogue fades and flourishes at will, and also Hispanic TV talk show hostess, Elena, whose accent and hysterical gestures are excitably authentic. Although Mary is a hardnosed executive, she carries an Hispanic puppet sock alter-ego, with whom she consults and switches accents in split seconds.
Maraio is no petite flower. His 6-foot, large frame is ideal for his super-imposing role as Mary, towering over his cowering three clone underlings, Bill, Jill, and Will, and lovely new singer, Hanan, whom Mary transforms from a lovely, 24-year-old, only child, Lebanese-American pop singer from New England, to a super-hot-hot-hot Latina singer from Bogota, her speech and written name, Han’an, boldly accented.
A theatric jack-of-all-trades, Maraio also designed the set, with its large, jazzy, centrally located plasma screen that beams a variety of timely, glitzy images, and some fabulous costumes.
The intimate Boston Playwrights Theatre in Boston is the ideal venue for this contemporary farce that’s for mature audiences only. In fact, some of Urueta’s bawdy, gutter language and graphic sexual antics are a little too close for comfort for some of us. Being forewarned that “Learn to be Latina” is adult humor, it’s easy to overlook crude, offensive dialog and gestures, especially with this cast’s hilarious antics.
Maureen Adduci as Jill, David Giagrando as Will and Rory Kulz as Bill, the three recording company yes men, act well. Their timing is impeccable as they repeat, recite, dance, cavort, declare, and retreat like middle-aged corporate triplets in white turtlenecks, black jackets and slacks.
Pretty Shawna O’Brien as Hanan successfully undergoes a grueling metamorphosis in 12 weeks, from nervous, chatty, fledgling pop singer to Latina super star, as Mary, Bill, Will, Jill, and lesbian Chicana office worker Blanca (whom Kristina Kattar portrays admirably) relentlessly train and remake her image. As Hanan and Blanca’s friendship grows, Blanca helps Hanan discover who she is and define their sexual relationship, from platonic to lesbionic.
As Hanan realizes she can no longer maintain her charade - especially after Hispanic TV host Elena’s probing interview, and a few secretly snapped, compromising photos of her and Blanca kissing, locked in an embrace, Hanan reveals her true identity. That’s not the only surprise, though. There’s something about Mary....
Besides capitalizing on absurd scenes, Maraio and Co. maintain pitch-perfect pace and eye contact with the audience.
Serious theatergoers may agree “Learn to be Latina” is offensive, but it boasts a talented cast, absorbing stage effects, and laughable moments. Anything that makes people laugh today because it’s so ludicrous can’t be bad --- crude, maybe, but not all bad.