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On Theater: Laughter is ‘Destiny’ of telenovela satire

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Ella Saldana North and Fidel Gomez rehearse a scene for “Destiny of Desire” at the South Coast Repertory stage.
(Don Leach / Photos by Don Leach | Daily Pilot)

The Mexican telenovela, a sort of TV miniseries with a Latin American theme, comes in for hilarious satirical treatment in South Coast Repertory’s latest production, “Destiny of Desire.”

The title alone should tip you off that something funny is going on, but it doesn’t take long for the show’s farcical elements to tickle your fancy. About the second or third choreographed scene change should do the trick.

For the uninitiated — which includes this writer — telenovelas are extremely popular south of the border and appear to be a cross between soap opera and melodrama. At SCR, it’s all that, along with a wildly performed cross between satire and farce.

Playwright Karen Zacarias has sought to both entertain and educate American audiences, and this she has accomplished brilliantly. She has interwoven some outlandish plot lines into a melange of hot-blooded romantic situations with consummate skill.

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Director Jose Luis Valenzuela carries the concept further by creating a freewheeling farcical atmosphere where even the scenic transitions are presented as works of choreographic art. His terrific ensemble leaves no comedic stone unturned, including a few laugh-inducing references to the current political situation on this side of the border.

The primary focus of the outrageous story is a moment, long ago, when two baby daughters — one born to a wealthy couple, the other to a poor peasant family — are switched at the order of the rich mother when it’s revealed that her baby has health problems.

That scheming matriarch is interpreted in the most accomplished performance of the show by Ruth Livier, whom SCR patrons will remember for her several seasons in “La Posada Magica.” Livier captures all the stereotyped moves of characters like hers and adds a few more of her own.

Playing her domineering casino-owner husband is Castulo Guerra in another commanding performance, rich in overarching arrogance. Eduardo Enrikez is effective as his hunky son who dallies with his stepmom but loses his heart to the girl he later believes to be his sister.

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That would be Esperanza America, nicely playing Pilar, the actual daughter of a peasant couple (Eliza Bocanegra and Mauricio Mendoza). She becomes a good buddy of their supposed daughter, Victoria, sweetly enacted by Ella Saldana North, and together they build a steamy “forbidden love” sequence.

Ricardo Guitierrez fiercely enacts the doctor who’s hot for Bocanegra’s character, while Fidel Gomez staunchly plays his estranged son, also a medic. Evelina Fernandez is a kick as a nursing nun who pulls the obligatory late-play surprise.

Francois-Pierre Couture’s bare stage setting becomes populated by yards of white sheets as backdrops and sand dunes. Julie Weiss created the attractive costumes, while Pablo Santiago and John Zalewski are responsible for the fine lighting and sound effects.

There’s no problem in comprehension here — all the dialogue is in English and the only Spanish comes in a few brief musical numbers (created by music director Rosino Serrano). “Destiny of Desire” is a wealth of comedic — and highly satiric — delight at South Coast Repertory.

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Loretta Swit, who played Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on TV’s “M*A*S*H,” will enact the title role in “Eleanor Roosevelt, Her Secret Journey” for four performances, opening Thursday at the Laguna Playhouse.

The two-time Emmy winner will play history’s longest-serving first lady during her challenge to bring warmth and compassion to issues of war, peace and human rights in the one-woman production.

The Thursday and Friday performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., the Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call the theater at (949) 497-2787 for ticket information.

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IF YOU GO

What: “Destiny of Desire”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 13

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Tickets start at $22

Information: (714) 708-5555 or  scr.org.


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