Review: ‘Divorciadas, Evangelicas y Vegetarianas’ at GALA Hispanic Theatre
By Celia Wren
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Even travelers on the busiest urban transport system might do a double take at Gloria, the spurned woman who rages into a subway at the start of Gustavo Ott’s “Divorciadas, evangelicas y vegetarianas” (“Divorcees, Evangelists and Vegetarians”). As portrayed by Menchu Esteban in director Abel Lopez’s zesty production of the three-actor comedy for GALA Hispanic Theatre, Gloria seems not so much a furious city dweller as a cyclone with a hangover and a Saks Fifth Avenue charge card.
Sporting white slacks and a fire-engine-red top, Esteban’s Gloria storms onto the subway platform ranting to no one in particular about her no-goodnik married lover. (The play is performed in Spanish, with English subtitles.) She lights a cigarette and immediately grinds it into the cement with one red high-heeled shoe, her face twisted with fury. She makes serpentine hand gestures as she calls her lover’s wife a snake. Digressing, she mimes the firing of a machine gun to illustrate her fondness for war movies, and she imitates Kim Basinger in “91 / 2 Weeks.”
Who could blame the platform’s only other occupant, a demure divorcee named Beatriz (Monalisa Arias), for getting swept up in the gale? Though her green frock and yellow cardigan look destined for a garden party (Lynly A. Saunders devised the production’s telling costumes), Beatriz is actually in the subway with the aim of hurling herself beneath a train. But her suicide plans fall by the wayside when Gloria insists upon her company.
Add in Gloria’s friend Meche (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey) — a kookily pious evangelical suffering from a midlife crisis — and you get a pleasantly loopy urban adventure-cum-gabfest, complete with feuds, gossip, surreptitious pot-smoking, an exorcism and bittersweet talk about love, disappointment and emotional healing.
“Divorciadas, evangelicas y vegetarianas” was a hit when GALA mounted it in 2003 (the company has also produced a number of other works by Venezuelan playwright Ott) and you can see why: While paying sincere tribute to the power of friendship, female bonding and personal resilience, the script maintains an appealingly screwball tone and pace. It’s enjoyably irreverent about men, shopping, sexual self-indulgence, religious sanctimony and diet trends (Gloria is ostensibly a strident vegetarian).
And, most important, it contains three roles that are godsends for gifted actresses — like the ones in Lopez’s zippily paced production. As Beatriz, Arias mostly has to play foil, which she does with expertly judged wide-eyed aplomb. But Fernandez-Coffey gets to demonstrate her comic chops, especially in a very funny sequence that has the flaky Meche engaging in rapt spiritual warfare with a Demon of Lust. (“Did you get his phone number? What’s he doing tomorrow?” an impressed Gloria asks, once the demon has departed.)
With a few expressionist touches (a pink statue in a park; an ogreish green face painted on the subway wall), scenic designer Daniel Pinha infuses the tale’s city settings with wit and strangeness. It’s a world that’s roomy enough for eccentricity and escapades but that’s also odd and lonely enough to make companionship essential.
By Gustavo Ott. Directed by Abel Lopez. Lighting design, Jason Cowperthwaite; sound, Brendon Vierra; properties, Sofia Gawer-Fische. In Spanish with English subtitles (English translation, Heather McKay). Two hours.