Despite the Latin Lavor of the title, "El Grande de Coca-Cola" is unmistakably British. It hails from the kick-you-in-the-teeth school of British humor that has supplied us, at its best, with "Fawlty Towers" and the assorted "Monty Pythons," while strongly influencing our own "Saturday Night" show and spinoffs.
The emcee of this show, which opened last weekend at d.c. space, is Pepe Hernandez, the patriarch of an improbable Latin show-biz family of five that has inherited its wardrobe from a pre-Castro Havana nightclub, and speaks a language ("and now, uno acto mas dangeroso," "uno acto fabuloso y different ," etc.) best described as pidgin Spanish.
Pepe himslef, agreeably acted by Brian Corrrigan, entertains us with incompetent, Latinizied impersonations of Cary Grant, James Stewart and Charles Laughton (in "The Humpety-Back of Notre Dame"). Then his kin take turns singing, dancing, and presenting such dubios "actos" as "Blind Joe Jackson," a blues singer who has trouble finding the strings on his guitar. (In similar vein, there is a blindfold mystic who promises to identify objects suggested by the audience, and manages only to identify a rubber boot -- by fondling it.) And at regular intervals, the Hernandezes take time out to plug Coca-Cola, their sponsor.
One of the many strange things about this strange show is how many of its acts have nothing to do with the Latin motif. After intermission, for example, the Hernandez family comes on as a French theater troupe performing a play about Toulouse-lautrec. Then comes perhpas the strangest, but most successful, act of all -- a pantomime wedding ceremony in which all the participants look happy and harmonious, followed by a "slow-motion replay" in which the same scene abounds with violence and bitterness.
The director, John Neville-Andrews, was part of the original team that wrote and performed this show and generated a large and loyal following for it in New York and elsewhere. Nothing about the version playing nightly except Mondays through March 15 at d.c. space even begins to explain that earlier success.