A noteworthy degree of high-performance gusto attends "¡Ser!" at Los Angeles Theatre Center. This deeply personal coming-of-age account from writer-performer Karen Anzoategui reveals a ripely burgeoning talent.
Using soccer as overarching metaphor for multiple cultural, familial and sexual conflicts, Anzoategui exudes a purposeful energy as brightly multifaceted as designer Leah Ramillano's environmental set. Combining a breathless acerbity that recalls a young Lea DeLaria with a piquant vulnerability entirely her own, Anzoategui gives the zigzagging saga, which takes in Buenos Aires, East L.A., her combative parents and emerging orientation an uncommon mix of hilarity and gravitas.
Her physical abandon is delightful, particularly when break dancing on AstroTurf or tussling with the giant soccer ball that descends from the flies. And Anzoategui's knack for instant character shifts --James Brown-esque Dad, tight-lipped Mom, Corleone-flavored and Emmett Kelly-tinged brothers, soccer idol Diego Maradona and more -- is self-evident and formidable.
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So is the festive music written by CAVA and Walter Miranda in collaboration with Louie Pérez of Los Lobos, with the righteous band overhead taking in Clinton Cameron and the terrific Shaunte Palmer.
Director Marcos Nájera keeps things moving briskly past the odd unnecessary repetition and occasional tonal abstraction. Certain emotional peaks in Spanish may leave non-bilingual viewers out of the loop just when Anzoategui is at her most nakedly honest.
These reservations notwithstanding, "¡Ser!" is singularly original and thoughtful, not to mention a lot of fun. With a few tweaks, like the endearing artist at midfield, it could easily kick its way into the world performance arena.
"¡Ser!," Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Dark Nov. 28. Ends Dec. 8. $10 to $30. (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.