REVIEWS LINKS TO CURRENTLY RUNNING NY SHOWS
ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
BOOKS and CDs
See links at top of our Main Page
LETTERS TO EDITOR
FILM & TV
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Didn't quite expect that one, did you? Oh sure, poverty is no day at the Four Seasons either, but when you have wealth, everybody wants a piece of it, and of you. People treat you differently. You've got to worry about where you're going to stash your loot (before the days of Swiss bank accounts, presumably) to keep equally greedy souls from stealing it out from under your nose. Honestly, how does a suddenly wealthy, two-bit actor get even a moment's rest?
Answer? He doesn't. Nightclub performer Euclio gets a lesson in these evils of cash-begotten angst in Evelina Fernandez's La Olla, a new version of Plautus's A Pot of Gold, and, alas, it's Euclio's joylessness that permeates this world premiere adaptation. Fashioned as a comedy but offering only a limited amount of farcical mad-cappery, Jose Luis Valenzuela's production for the Latino Theater Company at LATC is consistently off the mark.
Our setting is an L.A. music hall in the 1950s. We learn via a prologue spoken by Patron Saint Genesius (played by Fidel Gomez) that the semi-famous La Olla nightclub has passed out of the hands of Euclio's family and that Euclio's daughter, Phaedria (Esperanza America), has actual talent. Euclio (Sal Lopez), the joint's second banana and stage sweeper? Not so much.
As a parade of divas, ventriloquists and dancers move on and off the tombstone-shaped revolving stage designed by Yee Eun Nam, the plot unfolds. Euclio tries to figure out how to keep, and profit from, the stash of stolen money he has found. Phaedria needs to secure a husband before anyone gets wise to the fact that she's in the family way. Meanwhile, a trio of disguised gangsters are trying to get into the act as they search for the sack of cash they ditched backstage.
The sexually ambivalent club owner, Megadorus (Geoffrey Rivas), asks Euclio for Phaedria's hand. Lyconides (Sam Golzari), La Olla's male ingénue, would also like to marry her, which is fitting since he's the guy who knocked her up at the cherry festival nine months ago. Emcee Sobersides (Castulo Guerra) is greedier and more ambitious even than Euclio. And the tequila-swilling stagehand Staphyla (played by the playwright Fernandez) watches over all the proceedings with a world-weary expression on her pinched face. She has perhaps the production's best moment, dancing to a rumba beat while controlling a pair of puppets (designed by Camille Villanueva) fastened to her via a harness. The cigarette eternally dangling from her mouth never moves.
Valenzuela tries to meld the assorted variety acts with the Euclio/Phaedria/Megadorus plotlines, but it's not a particularly smooth mix. The performance bits are sporadically funny but they feel like they are interrupting the story or vice versa. Charismatic character actors though they both are, Lopez and Guerra spend a lot of time monologuing their way through dead space. When Lopez ultimately moves out into the house to demand information from the audience, the bit is labored rather than seamless farce.
America possesses no shortage of gusto playing both the spinster-turned-star Phaedria and the upstaged, opera-singing La Diva. Wearing a sparkly gold suit (designed by Naila Aladdin-Sanders) that Liberace might envy, Rivas's genial Megadorus gets a few yuks particularly when he's bantering with Fernandez's Staphyla and dutifully delivering the play's lessons about the danger of greed. Golzari, Gomez and Xavi Moreno work some capable buffoonery as the trio of gangsters.
La Olla was commissioned by the J Paul Getty Museum and a version of the tale was staged last year at the Getty Villa Theatre. Program notes from both Fernandez and Valenzuela suggest that the marriage of ancient Roman comedy and the Latino experience constitutes a bit of an experiment for Latino Theater Company audiences. The performers of Culture Clash have walked this very path several times before. La Olla could have used them.