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.