Pictured: Ruth Livier, Ricardo Gutierrez, and Evelina Fernandez. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Review: DESTINY OF DESIRE at Goodman Theatre
By Jonald Jude Reyes
When you enter the Goodman’s Albert Theatre for DESTINY OF DESIRE, music greets you from a piano onstage. As other audience members begin to trickle in, actors appear and begin to stretch, vocally warm-up, & talk in loose conversations. A couple of actors walk through the house and talk to audiences, asking them how they’re doing and if they’re ready to watch the show. Then a whistle assembles all these lingering elements to a start. It feels loose, fun, and exciting as you’re just not sure what’s about to come next.
DESTINY OF DESIRE is presented in the formula of a telenovela — a Latin-American serial drama that is stylistically comparable to an American soap opera. We’re immediately thrown into an overly dramatic situation covered by a dark & stormy night in a run-down hospital. Two women are giving birth at the same time, each distinct in economic class. One is Hortencia del Rio (Elisa Bocanegra), accompanied by her farmer husband, Ernesto del Rio (Mauricio Mendoza); and the other is Fabiola Castillo (Ruth Livier), completely glammed in a sequin dress while pushing to bring life into this world. Bocanegra and Del Rio are very supportive of each other and truly exemplify the proud lower class who make ends meet with their love. Livier flares up her diva qualities, showing us the privileged society she and her casino-owning husband, Armando Castillo (Castulo Guerra), inhabit. Fabiola overwhelms the room and orders Dr. Jorge Ramiro Mendoza (Ricardo Gutierrez) and Sister Sonia (Evelina Fernandez) to do as she says before her husband arrives to see their newborn baby. The farm couple gives birth to a healthy baby girl into a picture perfect moment. Fabiola’s baby is born weak, and knowing that her husband would be unhappy, she commands the doctor and nun to switch the babies. Money comes into play, laying the bedrock for our story. After the switch, we’re delivered a magnificently choreographed musical “credit roll,” presented with dramatic tableaus in perfectly placed freeze frames.
True to the telenovela style, subtle details enrich the production. Each transition has actors pushing or pulling scenery items like curtains, doors, windows, or chairs with embellished ballet dance moves. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela keeps a playful and upbeat energy throughout, a reminder that even though we’re invested in the drama, there’s humor in how ridiculous each new plots twist comes into play.
Adding weight to the production, sprinkled throughout are moments of fact sharing to complement the scene. For instance, during a jail scene a spotlight breaks in as an actor says into a microphone, “1 in every 100 Americans are behind bars…” and with each informative announcement, we’re left with a button of a joke before returning back.
18 years later, when the babies are grown into their economic lifestyles, Fabiola & Armando’s daughter, Pilar Castillo (Esperanza America) and Hortencia & Ernesto’s daughter, Victoria Maria (Ella Saldana North) cross paths, and situation on top of situation occurs. We have the long lost son who returns to appease his father, the love affair between doctors and wives, and of course, gunshots & stabbings. America and North each carry their wants and humanities to a perfect balance. Although Pilar’s inhabits a privileged upbringing, we see her want to be a poet, and giving Victoria Maria a chance to experience a life she’s never lived. And in the same vein, Victoria Maria wants to live a lavish lifestyle, but, in reality, knows how much she loves family and would do anything to keep up a strong bond. All the actors are great at showcasing these characteristics without being over-dramatic through the soap opera lens.
Karen Zacarias’s play is well orchestrated and written with distinct purposes that brings the play to a nice resolution. The set of reveals at the end is like an avalanche that has you laughing and applauding. But the best part of the entire production is the Latino-American voice. The rich culture and subtle comedic delivery is refreshing and provides for a fun ride.
DESTINY OF DESIRE runs through April 16th. For more information visit goodmantheatre.org.