A novel bilingual experiment by a little-known Cuban theater company prankishly mixes Spanish and English dialogue throughout the original comedy "Romero y Julieta" at the Cuban Cultural Club of Monterey Park.
The result is not a total success for people who speak only English, because playwrights Ofelia Fox and Rosa Sanchez rely much more heavily on Spanish than English, with Spanish-language humor dominating the laughs.
On the other hand, the title characters, romantically embattled Cuban roommates from Miami moving into an apartment near USC (Milton Demel and Rosita Fernandez) convey most of the play's essentials to people who do not speak Spanish (such as this reviewer) by their expressive physicality and clever, bilingual byplay. The latter includes bilingual hollering matches with responses in English expanding, repeating or contrasting the Spanish.
The achievement mirrors more strongly than the traditional bilingual theater, with its alternating Spanish and English-language casts, the practical, workaday English-Spanish double language of L.A. street life.
The production is energetically staged by debuting director Ricardo Ferran.
The plot has several familiar elements. Romero and Julieta are rooming together because they know each other from Miami, but they fight constantly. Then Romero realizes he is in love with Julieta, and he contrives a complicated scheme for getting her to reciprocate. The scheme involves three friends of Romero's who agree to come over to the apartment and play at roles designed to make Julieta see her roommate in a new light. But eventually, the farce catches even the role-players in its net.
The Cuban Cultural Club, which has been in the same facility for 25 years, began staging two or three Spanish-language plays annually four years ago, but the productions went largely unnoticed by the media.
Now local playwright Ofelia Fox, who conceived the bilingual venture, says: "Risky or not, I want to bring something lingually challenging to our theatergoers," most all of whom are Cuban.
As an earmark of the new commingling club landscape, the patron seated next to this reviewer was a young Chinese woman, married to a Cuban, accompanied by their 6-year-old adopted Korean son.
The facility is essentially a social club. Patrons buy sandwiches and Cuban tamales in the back and eat them at large, round tables as they watch the play.
* "Romero y Julieta," Cuban Cultural Club of Monterey Park, 247 E. Pomona Blvd., Monterey Park, Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. Ends March 26. $8. (818) 458-6860. Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.