This is the inaugural post for Inside Broadway’s Regional Roundup. Regional Theater plays a critical role in bringing professional live theater to audiences beyond Broadway. These theaters provide spaces for touring Broadway hits, mount revivals of Broadway gems, host Broadway-bound productions and develop new productions that make their way to Broadway. “Inside Broadway “will highlight these theaters through reviews of productions, Q&As and profiles of artists, directors and artistic directors.

destiny of desire

The Raucous World of Latin American Telenovelas Comes to Life in Arena Stage’s World Premiere Production of “Destiny of Desire” 
By Christy DeBoe Hicks

*The raucous world of telenovelas is all about drama (lots and lots of it), burning passions, rivalry, and treachery, enveloped in fast-paced story-lines and outrageous plot twists.

Those television melodramas, popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries, are cleverly brought to the American stage in Destiny Of Desire, now playing at Arena Stage at the Meade Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. Written by Helen Hayes Award-winning playwright Karen Zacarías (The Book Club Play), this audacious comedy both imitates and celebrates the theatrical excesses and social consciousness of the telenovela. This world premiere production is lively and engaging, infused with Latin music, dancing and culture. It expertly walks the line between melodrama and comedy in a way that both respects and charms the audience.

The story begins in the only way it could—on a dark and stormy night in Bellarica, Mexico. Two baby girls are born — one destined for a life of privilege and one relegated to a life of poverty. When the newborns are swapped at the urging of the wealthy mother, the stage is set for the twists and turns that bring the girls together as young women in an encounter that forever changes both their destinies.

The characters are brought to life by an all Latino cast that unfolds the outrageous plot with over- the-top performances and a wink toward the audience that lets us know that we’re all in on the joke together. The director of Destiny Of Desire, José Luis Valenzuela, uses every tool at his disposal to keep the audience engaged with the characters while continuously reminding us that the actors are playing actors who play characters in a telenovela.  The actors do costume changes on stage, serve as stagehands that stylistically reset the stage between scenes and hang out on the sidelines when they aren’t performing. Cast members also play multiple parts and do so in ways that reinforce the duality of the roles they are playing. The engaging cast includes Carlos Gomez, Nicholas Rodriguez, Esperanza America, Fidel Gomez, Oscar Ceville, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, Rayanne Gonzales, Marian Licha, Geoffrey Rivas, Elia Saldaña, Cástulo Guerra, and Rosino Serrano.

Despite all the fun—and there is plenty of it—the play also addresses serious issues about gender and class. This too is a nod to the telenovela. The medium has been frequently used by authorities in various countries to transmit sociocultural messages by incorporating them into the storylines.

Destiny of Desire is part of Arena Stage’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival— and it shows. The women in the play, who at first glance seem merely overwrought caricatures of themselves, turn out to be strong and determined to create their own destinies. The men, despite their often overplayed machismo, ultimately respect their female counterparts. This is evident in both the storyline and in small encounters throughout the play. If language has been a barrier to indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching telenovelas, try Destiny of Desire. It’s a smart, witty, play with Latin flavor and universal themes that will keep you laughing and leave you thinking.

America has long been enriched by Latin American food, music and culture—and this production of Destiny of Desire continues that tradition.  Perhaps when Donald Trump comes to town to interview replacement restauranteurs for his new hotel, he will stop by Arena Stage and get a glimpse of what our neighbors to the south and their American relatives are really bringing over the border.  I, for one, say, keep it coming.

This review is based on an early preview of the play, which officially opens on Thursday, September 24.

Destiny Of Desire
September 11, 2015–October 18, 2015
Arena Stage
The Mead Center for American Theater
1101 Sixth Street, SW
Washington, DC
Box Office: 488-3300
www.arenastage.org

christy deboe hicks (headshot)

Christy DeBoe Hicks

Christy DeBoe Hicks is a veteran writer and communications specialist. A life-long theater buff, she was a long-time resident of New York City and currently lives and works in Washington, D.C. Contact her at [email protected].