The Twin Cities premiere of "Learn to Be Latina" is outrageous and laugh-out-loud funny.
Enrique Urueta's sharp-tongued comedy, which had its uproarious opening over the weekend at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, throws stereotypes into the air and shoots them down with glee. Theater officials advise that the production, directed like a three-alarm fire by Mark Valdez, is adults-only not because of violence, which is mostly nonexistent, or sex -- there is some girl-on-girl and metaphoric boy-on-boy titillation in "Latina." The red-letter rating comes from the show's profane language, which is artfully deployed.
"Latina," which takes place on Wrara Plesoiu's glitzy, record-adorned set, opens with an audition. Three interchangeable, identically clad record company executives sit in the audience and give feedback to aspiring singer Hanan (Jamie Elvey). She is clearly talented, they tell her, but Will, Jill and Bill (Seth Tucker, Bonni Allen and Brian Skellenger) see a big problem ahead. She is unmarketable. Hanan is Lebanese-American, a heritage that evokes images of terrorists. The officials sign her up with a condition: She must give up her true identity, whatever that may be, and learn to pass for a Latina sexpot. Her coach will be ethnic consultant Mary O'Malley (Aditi Kapil), who herself has many secrets. Meanwhile, office manager Blanca (Hope Cervantes) has the hots for Hanan.
Director Valdez keeps everything moving at a madcap clip as he brings prejudices to the fore, and the vignettes are often humorous in their daring context. When the label bosses try to explain to Hanan why she can't be herself, one of them circles like an airplane, arms outstretched, and knocks over the other two a la the Twin Towers. At one point, as Hanan is taking lessons from Mary, babies are thrown at her from every angle. Both scenes push to the edge of propriety in a show that is part farce, part sex comedy and all extended sketch comedy.
The cast has flawless timing. Elvey, a newcomer to the Twin Cities, nails Hanan from her shock to her doubts. In the opening audition, she explains how she made her demo tape by talking about a boy who was a boyfriend before he came out. It's a breathless tour-de-force performance. Kapil is excellent as Mary, an academic-cum-record exec with a dominatrix streak.
The show also features George Keller as Elena, a Latin Oprah who smiles at guests just before biting their heads off.
"Latina" is clearly artificial. But in critiquing so many cultural obsessions, it proves entertainingly instructive.
Rohan Preston 612-673-4390