Havana in the 1950s was no laughing matter, but "Contigo, Pan y Cebolla" ("With You, Bread and Onions"), which takes place at that time and place, is. The play by Hector Quintero, in Spanish at GALA Hispanic Theater, is loud and fluffy, but not political. No Batista hovers in the background, no Castro in the wind. There is only a lower-class family aspiring to the lower middle. And its struggle, as directed by Hugo Medrano, is sweet, fast and very funny.
Lala and Anselmo are too poor to obtain credit to buy a refrigerator on installments. Their son Anselmito wants to be an artist, their daughter Lalita wants to marry well. Anselmo's mother Fefa just wants to be left in peace to hear her radio soap opera, something called "By Love Disinherited." Only winning the lottery could possibly help the situation, and that is just what happens. But the excitement of new wealth gives old Fefa a stroke, and the lottery money goes for her funeral. And that's only half the story.
The quick Havana cadence of the humor is captured with relish by the mostly Cuban ensemble. Juan Manuel Gonza'lez, who plays Anselmo, is at once hysterical and poignant. Madelain Romero Fresneda plays his wife as a kvetch with a heart of gold, and Leonor Cha'ves is irresistible as Lalita, the pigtailed Latin princess.
The title of the play refers to an old Spanish proverb that when you find true love poverty matters little. It matters a lot, in fact, but that message is powerfully understated, and the laughter throughout is bittersweet.
CONTIGO PAN Y CEBOLLA. By Hector Quintero. Directed by Hugo Medrano; sets, Medran and Carlos Gonza'lez; costumes, Elizabeth Bergman; lighting and sound, Carlos Banales. With Ameli'a Ferna'ndez, Madelain Romero Fresneda, Leonor Cha'ves, Juan Manuel Gonza'lez, Oscar Garci'a, Patricia Rosell, Richard Gaetjens and Nelson Lorenzo. In Spanish language only. Thursdays through Sundays at GALA Hispanic Theater through Feb. 28.