Theatre

In Native Gardens, an ambitious young couple moves into a fixer-upper in an affluent DC neighborhood. Husband Pablo (Gabriel Ruiz) is a lawyer, his pregnant wife Tania (Paloma Nozicka) is working on her doctorate dissertation. Their nice and lively, albeit politically incorrect, neighbors are a defense contractor Virginia (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and her retired gardening-loving husband Frank (Patrick Clear). Shortly after moving in, Pablo has a bright idea to invite his entire law firm (all sixty people) to a barbeque in their embarrassingly unfinished yard, so the young couple gets to work. The old wire fence separating the neighbors’ properties (very nice design set by William Boles) has to go, but it soon becomes evident that Frank has been gardening on extra 23 inches of land that actually belongs to the new couple, according to the property plans.


Upon further calculations Pablo realizes that those 23 inches along the old fence translate into extra 80 sq feet of land which goes for “about $15,000 at a current market price”. Well, it’s a war then! Frank refuses to let go of his lovingly raised flowers right up against the ill-placed fence, while the young couple is on a mission to re-claim what’s rightfully theirs.


Who knew that an incorrectly placed fence would cause so much commotion? We all did, we saw it coming before the play even started. But despite its predictability, this comedy is still entertaining and somewhat thought provoking. Written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Marti Lyons, Native Gardens is more about generation clash, stereotypes, ageism and racism rather than the property lines. The older couple is from the pre-self-censorship era, and in their ignorance, they don’t always choose words carefully; they say what’s on their minds rather than hide behind politically correct words and ideas. But those words are often offensive to the delicate ears of Tania, whose proper opinions, frankly, make for sterile conversation, enough to put one to sleep. All in all, the two couples can’t effectively communicate, so they threaten each other instead. Will their peace be restored?


Native Gardens runs through July 2nd at Victory Gardens Theater. To find out more about this show visit www.VictoryGardens.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s been quite a year in Chicagoland for Karen Zacarías, and it’s not over yet. One year after her The Book Club Play graced the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, a month after Destiny of Desire opened at the Goodman, and a month before Native Gardens plays at Victory Gardens, her new play Into the Beautiful North is receiving a rolling world premiere back at 16th Street. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Naperville resident Luis Alberto Urrea, Into the Beautiful North is a hilarious, bitingly satirical, and occasionally terrifying and disturbing adventure story about a group of young Mexicans going on a quest to the distant, fabled city of Kankakee. The dangers awaiting them will change how they see everything.

The small Mexican town of Tres Camarones doesn’t have much. There’s just one internet-capable computer, owned by Tacho (Esteban Andres Cruz), the gay proprietor of the internet café. There’s a shuttered movie theatre where people used to escape into wild flights of fancy. And recently, nearly all the men seem to have deserted for the United States. This makes Tres Camarones easy prey to the evil narcos, who steal and abuse the town’s inhabitants as they please. But the town still successfully holds a mayoral election, which is won by Irma Cervantes (Laura Crotte) on a platform of boosting female employment by holding a Yul Brenner festival (though the cinema owner insists on a Steve McQueen festival).

While the town watches The Magnificent Seven, Irma’s niece, Nayeli (Ilse Zacharias), has a bold idea: why not go to the United States and gather seven brave Mexican men to fight off the narcos? They could even start with her father, who sent her a postcard once from Kankakee claiming he had done well. Irma supports the idea and contributes a lead of her own, while Nayeli gathers Tacho and her goth friend, Vampi (Allyce Torres), to make the journey to Tijuana, and then, illegally cross the border and go onward to Illinois, with stops for sight-seeing in Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

All does not go well. The band of friends is subjected to harassment and assault by federal troops searching for illegal Central American immigrants while still deep within Mexico. At Tijuana, they are joined by the dump-dwelling garbage warrior, Atomiko (Brandon Rivera), but their first crossing attempt is a disaster. The friends soon realize they have no idea what they will do even if they do get across, but this only proves to Nayeli that only the braves heroes can survive going to the United States.

Directed by Ann Filmer and cast member Miguel Nuñez, Into the Beautiful North rides the peaks of absurdity and valleys of real life horror like a roller coaster. Though we may be chuckling at Nayeli’s silhouetted Jack Sparrow-fantasy-lover one minute and cringing at an all-too-real incident of homophobia or xenophobia the next, the play is very much a coherent whole. Partly that’s because of a brilliant design by Joanna Iwanicka (set), Cat Wilson (lighting), Rachel Sypniewski (costumes) and Barry Bennett (sound/music), which capture the look of a Technicolor Western. We’re half-in the land of myth, where good and evil, love, and coming of age journeys are all outsized, so, of course, anything can happen.

But we’re also in the realm of shrewd political commentary, and that’s where the eight-person ensemble really shines. Zacharias, Crotte, Cruz, Nuñez, Torres, Rivera, and Andrés Enriquez and Juan Munoz go through a whirlwind of character changes as they perform this epic, each moving between larger-than-life performance styles and brief, but fascinating portraits of people from a massive swath of North America. Nayeli is so optimistic it’s impossible not to love her, and Tacho likewise emerges as a true hero in the face of the crap he is subjected to.

Filmer’s pre-show announcement hails the Mexican pride in this play, and that’s certainly present in abundance. Despite the outward simplicity of the presentation, we feel as though we are going on this journey with these characters as they learn about their own country and the United States. Atomiko the garbage warrior is amusing, but we are pointedly reminded that people really do live and die in such dumps. That’s an indictment of both countries’ social structures as well as a tribute to ordinary peoples’ courage, resourcefulness, and determination to survive. As is often the case with 16th Street, the play was extended before it even opened. As fine as this story is, it works especially well in an intimate setting. Don’t wait to get your tickets.

Highly Recommended

Into the Beautiful North is playing at the 16th St Theater in the Berwyn Cultural Center, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, Il. Performances run Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays at 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm through June 3rd. Running time is two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Free parking is available in the parking lot at 16th St and Gunderson.

To order, call 708-795-6704 or visit 16thstreettheater.org.

*Extended through June 17th

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Destiny of Desire begins with the actors breaking the fourth wall, walking among the audience, encouraging them to relax and have fun. As they complete their tasks setting up the empty Goodman soundstage on which the telenovela we are about to watch is being shot, the entire cast announces with glee, “We are here to change the social order! Deal with it!”

 

And change the order they do, especially where the reputations and struggles of the Latino community are concerned. Playwright Karen Zacarías so grew weary of the way many plays written by Hispanics were dismissively compared to "telenovelas”, a form of soap opera-like entertainment. We are informed during the show that telenovelas are watched by a third of the world’s population - a full two billion fans around the world. Zacarías succeeds marvelously in parodying a true telenovela for the stage full of twists and turns and sexy passionate, and sometimes tragic, stories while using the play to advance feminist values in a subtle but very important way.

 

For example, when two young girls are struck in the face by their father when they are caught kissing, the father, Armando Castillo (Castulo Guerro), quickly laments his violence and cries that a woman should never be hit by a man - never be hit with anything more harsh than a single rose petal. 

 

Likewise, when the rich villainess of the piece, Fabiola Castillo (played to perfection by the elegant and serpentinely sexy Ruth Livier) seems to make you totally disgusted with her gold digging, self-centered un-motherly behavior, the audience finds out that Fabiola was herself a poor girl subjected to repeated sexual abuse before escaping the farm life and painstakingly transforming herself into a blonde bombshell, eventually marrying to the richest man in the town.  

 

The story starts simply enough when two women (one rich and one poor) give birth at the same time at the same hospital. When the baby belonging to the privileged family is found sickly, the mother begs the doctor to make a switch so that she can have the healthy infant – and he does, pawning the other off on the farmhands. The plot thickens at virtually every corner in this hilarious in this oft steamy, oft scandalous Spanish soap opera set for stage – a show that literally keeps the audience plugged in from its opening scene. The journey follows the happenings as these women take destiny into their own hands. 

 

There are so many twists and turns, it would be a disservice to reveal the plot-lines but the most important message that runs throughout the show from the first scene to the last is that each mother and each daughter born to each family (one poor family and one rich) is the most precious miracle, a blessing bestowed by God and that no matter what the daughter's talents, beauty or graces or mistakes, they should all be protected from abuse or health neglect at any cost. 

 

The set detail truly creates an atmosphere to which we can easily become lost, sit back and just enjoy the story. Each of the men and women are dressed to sexy perfection in Julie Weiss’ true to telenovela form in dazzlingly modern costumes. The costumes by Julie Weiss are so VERY the typical telenovela, the lighting by Pablo Santiago floods the stage with oink, and the golden lights and large swathes of white fabric are ingeniously used to symbolize the desert sands, which is perfectly romantic and also constantly changing. I adored the swiftly moving and beautifully lit set by Francois-Pierre Couture.

 

Although, this is not a musical a pianist provides the score and there are songs, beautiful rich songs sung with passion in Spanish by many of the characters. Not knowing the lyrics in English makes no difference as these lovely pieces bond the show together and send the emotions soaring in a way that deepens the love you feel for each character's plight without stopping the comedy flow.  

 

Now that I know that two billion people are watching and enjoying this form of entertainment, I sincerely hope the huge success of this show makes its feminist message a regular part of telenovelas being produced right now, more than ever. 

 

Throughout the nearly non-stop humor in the show, there are also current day ad libs which refer to Donald Trump, the life expectancy of Hispanics in America (the highest despite financial and health insurances challenges) and the fact is pointed out that one out of every hundred Americans are behind bars because we incarcerate more of our citizens than any other country - messages all of which are delivered in a very funny and brief way which makes each fact that more clear without sounding preachy or out of place. Some are humorous while others are strong in message, one of the more shocking factoids divulging that one person is found dead each day in the desert between Mexico and the United States attempting to cross the border.

 

Karen Zacarias’ parody of the telenovela both does the art form justice and “cleans it up a little” in terms of political correctness in the most palatable way. 

 

Zacarias knows exactly how the pure unadulterated passion of men for the women in their lives can devolve into a passionate rage against the daughters and mothers of OTHER men without distinction in the man’s mind. 

 

Destiny of Desire is a very funny lampoon on telenovelas that perfectly exaggerates the absurdities while giving us an entertaining story where nothing is predictable. 

 

Finely directed by Jose Luis Valenuela, a talented cast from top to bottom perform to perfection this highly amusing script. Esperanza America and Ella Saldana North are just dynamite as the two sisters separated from their true families at birth while Eduardo Enrikez engages the audience each time he appears on stage with his campy portrayal of Sebastian Jose Castillo. Maurico Mendoza and Elsa Bocanegra flawlessly play the poor Del Rio parents as do Ricardo Gutierrez and Fidel Gomez in the roles of father and son doctors, Dr. Jorge Ramiro Mendoza and Dr. Diego. Adding to what is already Well-thought comedic touches are littered throughout the production, the actors performing ballet moves as they switch out the props.   

 

Destiny of Desire is highly recommended as a sexy production that keeps a rapid pace, delivers buckets of comedy and engrosses from the word “Go”.  

 

Destiny of Desire is being performed at Goodman Theatre through April 16th. For tickets or more show information, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The plot twists, outrageous circumstances and fast-paced narrative style of the telenovela arrive on the Goodman stage this spring in Destiny of Desire—Karen Zacarías’ “terrifically entertaining theatrical roller coaster, directed to perfection by José Luis Valenzuela” (The Los Angeles Times). Filled with original live music—arranged and performed in English and Spanish by Rosino Serrano—and movement by choreographer Robert Barry Fleming, Destiny of Desire is Zacarías’ smart, subversive and comic study of the clashes of the haves and have-nots that simultaneously honors and parodies the beloved Latin American TV serial drama. Destiny of Desire, produced in association with South Coast Repertory, appears March 11 through April 16 (opening night is March 20) in the Albert Theatre. Tickets ($20-$75; subject to change) are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Destiny, the box office (170 N. Dearborn) or by phone at 312.443.3800. Details about special events and performances—including “A Date with Destiny” March 15 Scenemakers Board fundraiser for young professionals, “Drama and Desire” March 16 Women’s Night and $10 College Night—appear below. Hoy is the Media Sponsor.

 

“We are thrilled to welcome back Karen Zacarías, one of our most gifted writers, to the Goodman with this delightful new play,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “If you’re a fan of the telenovela, you’ll relish the twists and turns that are an essential part of the genre’s allure; if it’s your first experience, I think you’ll be charmed by Karen’s wit, ingenuity and sobering insights into the issues that confront us today. Either way, I predict you’ll be seduced by the unique pleasures of the telenovela as translated to the stage.”

 

When women take destiny into their own hands, the world transforms! On a stormy night in small town Mexico, two baby girls are born—one to poverty, one to privilege—then secretly switched. Eighteen years later the girls meet, brought together by misfortune. Or is it fate? The 11-member company includes Esperanza America, Elisa Bocanegra, Eduardo Enrikez, Evelina Fernández, Fidel Gomez, Cástulo Guerra, ​​​Ricardo Gutierrez, Ruth Livier, Mauricio Mendoza, Ella Saldana North and Rosino Serrano. The creative team includes François-Pierre Courture (sets), Julie Weiss (costumes), Pablo Santiago (lights), John Zalewski (sound), Serrano (composer/music director) and Fleming (choreography).

 

“I think the moment is right for a theatrically adventurous, wickedly subversive and raucously entertaining play that defies labels while challenging and celebrating a Latino tradition,” said Karen Zacarías, whose previous plays at the Goodman include The Sins of Sor Juana (2010) and Mariela in the Desert (2005). “Destiny of Desire is an act of rebellion, heritage and joy—as well as an aesthetic, artistic and political endeavor. Writing this play has been a joyful experience, and I’m thrilled to share it with Chicago audiences at the Goodman, which I consider an artistic home.”

 

Televised serial dramas of Latin America, Korea, India and beyond are characterized by fast-moving plots, personal stories against political backdrops, music in storytelling, and encouragement of social change. Ugly Betty, Devious Maids, Jane the Virgin and Queen of the South are among U.S. versions of telenovelas. Unlike daytime soaps, telenovelas air during primetime, over the course of roughly 200 episodes (or chapters) up to six nights a week.

 

"It is great to be at the Goodman with this play, which challenges the perception of Mexicans told through the familiar lens of the Telenovela genre,” said José Luis Valenzuela.  “Karen has masterfully created a raucous piece that combines music, humor, and a political edge that culminates in a night of beauty and provocation of what happens when women decide to take over their own destiny."

Karen Zacarías was recently hailed by American Theater Magazine as one of the most produced playwrights in the USA. Other plays premiering in Chicago in 2017 include Native Gardens at Victory Gardens and Into the Beautiful North at 16th Street Theater. Other plays include Mariela in the Desert (World Premiere, The Goodman), The Sins of Sor Juana (productions The Goodman Theater and Teatro Vista), The Book Club Play (16th Street Theater), Legacy of Light (National Steinberg citation winner), the adaptations of Just Like Us (Denver Center), How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent (Round House). She collaborated on the libretto for the ballets Sleepy Hollow and Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises for the Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and has written 10 TYA musicals with composer Deborah Wicks La Puma. Her plays have been produced at The Kennedy Center, The Goodman Theater, South Coast Rep, The Guthrie, Cincinnati Playhouse, RoundHouse Theater, GALA Hispanic Theater, Denver Theater Center, Dallas Theater Center and many more. Zacarías is a core founder of the Latino Theatre Commons, a national network that strives to update the American narrative to including the stories of Latinos. She is the founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, an award-winning theater company that teaches playwriting in local public schools in Washington, D.C. Zacarías lives in D.C. with her husband and three children.    

 

José Luis Valenzuela is the artistic director of the Latino Theater Company (LTC) and The Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) and also a professor and head of the MFA directing program at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. In 2010, under Valenzuela’s leadership, the LATC was nominated for an L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Award for Best Theatre Season. Valenzuela’s artistic vision and community commitment has garnered numerous recognitions, nominations and awards including the Ann C. Rosenfield Distinguished Community Partnership Prize and the Hispanic Heritage Month Local Hero of the Year Award. He serves on the national steering committee of the Latina/o Theatre Commons and produced the national Latina/o Theatre Festival Encuentro in 2014. Most recently, he directed Destiny of Desire at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. and South Coast Repertory and La Olla – Plautus’s The Pot of Gold for the Latino Theater Company at the LATC.

 

TICKETS, DISCOUNTS AND SPECIAL EVENTS

Tickets ($20-$75) – GoodmanTheatre.org/Destiny; 312.443.3800; Fax: 312.443.3825; TTY/TDD: 312.443.3829

Box Office Hours –12noon - 5pm; on performance days, the box office remains open until 30 minutes past curtain

MezzTix – Half-price day-of-performance mezzanine tickets available at 10am online (promo code MEZZTIX)

$10Tix – Student $10 day-of-performance tickets; limit four, with valid student ID (promo code 10TIX)

Group Sales and dinner/theater packages with Latinicity restaurant are available for parties 10+; 312.443.3820

Gift Certificates – Available in any amount; GoodmanTheatre.org/GiftCertificates

 

“A DATE WITH DESTINY” SCENEMAKERS EVENT – March 15 | 5:30pm reception at Catch 35, 7:30pm performance

Tickets are $65. Join the Scenemakers Board for “A Date with Destiny”—a fateful fundraising event that supports New Play Development at Goodman Theatre. Mingle with Chicago young professionals and experience the kind of exciting new plays the Scenemakers Board works to support. GoodmanTheatre.org/DestinyDate

 

COLLEGE NIGHT – March 15 | 6pm meet-the-artists pizza party, 7:30pm performance

Tickets are $10 using code COLLEGE; includes dinner and performance. Students enjoy a pre-show reception with fellow theater-lovers and cast members, followed by a performance. GoodmanTheatre.org/CollegeNight

 

“DRAMA AND DESIRE” WOMEN'S NIGHT – March 16 | 5:30pm cocktails and dinner at Petterino's, 7:30pm performance. Tickets are $75; includes dinner and performance. Mingle with the city’s best and brightest female leaders. GoodmanTheatre.org/WomensNight

 

ARTIST ENCOUNTER – March 19 at 5pm | The Alice Center for Engagement and Education at Goodman Theatre.  Tickets are FREE. In a special collaboration with Chicago Foundation for Women, join Zacarías for an in-depth conversation about the play, as well as her experience as a female playwright and her role as an artist in advocating for women’s rights. GoodmanTheatre.org/ArtistEncounter

 

ACCESSIBILITY AT GOODMAN THEATRE

 

Touch-Tour, April 8 at 12:30pm – A presentation detailing the set, costume and character elements

Audio-Described Performance, April 8 at 2pm – The action/text is audibly enhanced for patrons via headset

ASL-Interpreted Performance, April 12 at 7:30pm – Professional ASL interpreter signs the action/text as played 

Open-Captioned Performance, April 15 at 2pm – An LED sign presents dialogue in sync with the performance

Visit Goodman Theatre.org/Access for more information about Goodman Theatre’s accessibility efforts.

 

About Goodman Theatre

 

America’s “Best Regional Theatre” (Time magazine) and “Chicago’s flagship resident stage” (Chicago Tribune), Goodman Theatre is a not-for-profit organization distinguished by the quality and scope of its artistic programming and civic engagement. Founded in 1925, the Goodman is led by Robert Falls—“Chicago’s most essential director” (Chicago Tribune), who marks 30 years as Artistic Director this season—and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, who is celebrated for his vision and leadership over nearly four decades. Dedicated to new plays, reimagined classics and large-scale musical theater works, Goodman Theatre artists and productions have earned hundreds of awards for artistic excellence, including: two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards, nearly 160 Jeff Awards and more. Over the past three decades, audiences have experienced more than 150 world or American premieres, 30 major musical productions, as well as nationally and internationally celebrated productions of classic works (including Falls’ productions of Death of a Salesman, Long Day’s Journey into Night, King Lear and The Iceman Cometh, many in collaboration with actor Brian Dennehy). In addition, the Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle.” For nearly four decades, the annual holiday tradition of A Christmas Carol has created a new generation of theatergoers. 

 

The 2016 opening of the Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement (“the Alice”) launched the next phase in the Goodman’s decades-long commitment as an arts and community organization dedicated to educating Chicago youth and promoting lifelong learning. Programs are offered year-round and free of charge. Eighty-five percent of the Goodman’s youth program participants come from underserved communities.

 

Goodman Theatre was founded by William O. Goodman and his family in honor of their son Kenneth, an important figure in Chicago’s cultural renaissance in the early 1900s. The Goodman family’s legacy lives on through the continued work and dedication of Kenneth’s family, including Albert Ivar Goodman, who with his late mother, Edith-Marie Appleton, contributed the necessary funds for the creation of the new Goodman center in 2000.

 

Today, Goodman Theatre leadership includes the distinguished members of the Artistic Collective: Brian Dennehy, Rebecca Gilman, Henry Godinez, Dael Orlandersmith, Steve Scott, Chuck Smith, Regina Taylor, Henry Wishcamper and Mary Zimmerman. Joan E. Clifford is Chair of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Cynthia K. Scholl is Women’s Board President and Justin A. Kulovsek is President of the Scenemakers Board for young professionals. 

 

Visit the Goodman virtually at GoodmanTheatre.org—including OnStage+ for insider information—and on Twitter (@GoodmanTheatre), Facebook and Instagram.

 

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