WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2015 – Paying tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month and to the telenovela – arguably the most popular form of entertainment in the world – “Destiny of Desire” has burst on the scene in the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage with all the passion and energy of the Latin Grammies and ALMA awards wrapped up in one intriguing evening.
Directed by José Luis Valenzuela, “Destiny of Desire” is the most recent effort by Karen Zacarías, a Washington area playwright and the first playwright-in-residence at Arena Stage. In many ways, according to the director, this world-premiere musical dramedy can be regarded as an homage to all those wildly popular telenovelas—essentially those limited run primetime soap operas and adventures filled with melodrama and passion that have been a staple on Hispanic cable channels like Univision for years.
“This play is all about chemistry,” says actor-singer Nicholas Rodriguez, “and the perspective in the title – Desire – is a very Latino way of life. And you will not believe the twists and turns taken within the two-hour performance. Being on stage is the extreme sport of acting that you don’t get with film or TV. There is no safety net.”
Just like switching on the first episode of a telenovela, from the minute you take your seat, you can feel the undercurrent of passion and energy as Rodriguez—who portrays, with dashing bad boy bravado, stepbrother Sebástien Jose Castillo—loosens up on side stage with a dozen reps on the ab roller in a muscle shirt as the cast members flex their muscles and scramble for flamboyant wardrobe selections ranging from red Pope shoes to nuns’ habits.
You feel the storm coming as the scene quickly transitions to that fateful night in the maternity ward when two women meet their date with destiny as they deliver their daughters. One, born to a wealthy mother, is a frail, premature baby struggling for her first breath of life in a luxury birthing suite, while the other is a healthy baby girl born to a farmer’s wife in the ER.
The frail child of the aristocrat, a former beauty queen named Fabiola Castillo (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffy), is purposely switched by her mother at birth with the healthy child of the farmer’s wife. Fearing the possible wrath of her powerful and influential casino-owner husband Armando (Cástulo Guerra), this vain and insecure woman says, “I can’t bring home a child that is broken.” Deciding to make the switch, she justifies her decision with this haughty justification: “The poor expect to suffer, that is their fate.”
With that pivotal and selfish decision, an entire village is caught up a web of lies and deceit that culminates in a roller coaster ride of 16 scenes featuring 11 actors, a dozen musical numbers and at least three destructive storms on the coast of Bellerica, Mexico, the casino resort where the rich Castillo family rules with ruthless power.
The center of this three-ring circus is Armando’s illegitimate son, Sebastian (Rodriguez) who returns to the casino to claim his birthright even as he is casually banging his father’s vain young wife on the side.
He also sings and dances his way into the hearts of his well-to-do “sister” Pilar and her “servant,” Victoria, respectively portrayed with a saucy flair by leading ladies Esperanza America (Pilar, actually the farmer’s daughter) and Elia Saldaña (Victoria, the real privileged daughter). The latter orchestrates another role reversal that delivers the dramatic finish of the second act.
Despite Sebastian’s questionable morals, one of the most touching moments in the play occurs as he croons a Spanish love song filled with sorrow and loss that showcases his extraordinary vocal talent. It’s an unexpected, passionate departure from the constant intra-family conflict his aggressive father stokes in his battle for family control and dignity.
Our pair of young ladies turn out to have their own issues as well. Pilar finds her inner Ellen donning a sexy French Maid’s outfit and submitting to Victoria’s amorous advances to the astonishment of her lascivious and confused father who’s ready to banish her to the nearest convent. That is, until he realizes that the local convents are full of desperate, sexually-deprived women.
For his part, Cástulo Guerra delivers a robust interpretation of strongman Armando Castillo. Guerra’s Armando is actually the glue that connects the many branches of his fragile family tree in the struggle of life, death and destiny.
The actor’s appearance in this play marks his return to Arena Stage after a 33-year West Coast career diversion during which he’s appeared in major films such as “Terminator” while becoming a leadership presence in the Latino Theater Company.
“Destiny of Desire” is a rollicking-good effort that’s well worth catching before it wraps up its current run on Sunday.
Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)
“Destiny Of Desire” runs through October 18, 2015 in the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street SW, in Washington, DC.
Approximate running time: 2 hour and 20 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.
Tickets and information: Call the box office at 202-488-3300 or visit the Arena Stage website at www.arenastage.org.
Conversations on “Destiny of Desire”: As part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith has positioned this new play as Arena’s first offering in what will be the largest collaboration of theater companies presenting world premiere productions of plays written by women.
As part of this effort, after certain performances, Karen Zacarías, Allison Engel and Margaret Engel have been available to discuss how women are subverting expectations in contemporary theater. The concluding post-show panel discussion will take place after the October 14 matinee performance of the play, which starts place at noon.