Move over, Eliza Doolittle: You have some competition.
Now making her U.S. debut is a new incarnation of Pygmalion's Galatea, the glamorous and -- even better -- reprogrammable Nora in "Te Quiero, Munica (I Love You, Doll)," a futuristic comedy that has been given a snazzy staging by GALA Hispanic Theatre. The invention of contemporary Spanish playwright Ernesto Caballero, Nora can be cosmopolitan, gregarious, sexy, supportive and eager to please, and (giving her the edge on Henry Higgins's Cockney protege) she can be operated by remote control. So the only hindrances to marital bliss, as her film critic husband, Andres, discovers with chagrin, are a couple of age-old truths.
First, no cease-fire has been called in the war between the sexes. And second, you can't always get what you want -- and when you do, you usually realize that you didn't really want it to begin with.
A tad overgenerous with such truisms, and with some arch ironies, "Te Quiero" is not a literary masterpiece like the works to which Caballero pays overt homage: Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" (with its heroine named Nora); George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion"; and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."
But it has a roguish sparkle, and it's been given a terrific look and pace by director Harold Ruiz and his team of designers and actors. From the first quirky conversation between Nora (Ana Veronica Munoz) and Andres (Carlos Castillo) on Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden's suavely modernistic set, every facet of the production contributes to a bright world of larger-than-life behavior and banter that's not unlike what you might find in a sophisticated musical comedy.
Providing the show's crucial pivot is Munoz's inspired interpretation of Nora, a Stepford wife with a mind of her own. Physically, Munoz hits on just the right hint of the robotic in her walk, her gestures and her speech. The effect becomes hilarious when the android gives Andres a massage, and when she has a small temper tantrum, banging her fists mechanically as she huddles on the floor. Later on, when Munoz portrays Eva, the lab assistant who served as model for Nora, she comes up with mannerisms that sharply distinguish the flesh-and-blood creature from the cyber-wife.
Castillo cinches the role of the self-righteous metrosexual Andres, expressing the character's arrogance even in the way he sits on the sofa, holding up his hand so that Nora can supply the requisite drink. Providing a fun contrast are Lucrecia Basualdo and Luis Simon as Andres and Nora's schlumpy neighbors Rosa and Ramon, who come over for dinner one night and get enmeshed in the household saga. Rounding out the cast is Eva Salvetti, who lends a suitably intimidating air to La Doctora, Nora's scientist creator.
The characterizations benefit from Alessandra D'Ovidio's colorful costumes, including a scary haute-couture Mao suit for La Doctora. McFadden's set also hits the right thematic notes, with a black linoleum floor and circuitry-like wall patterns emphasizing the play's sci-fi credentials. And Ayun Fedorcha's theatrical lighting complements the play's slightly fantastical world.
The production provides a nice showcase for Caballero, who according to GALA publicity materials has received only one previous staging -- of a different play -- in this country. But there's no need to relegate "Te Quiero" to Contemporary Spanish Drama 101. As the GALA version makes clear, it's a wry comedy that reminds us of an uncomfortable reality: That it's our flaws and eccentricities that make us fully human.
Te Quiero, Munica (I Love You, Doll), by Ernesto Caballero. Directed by Harold Ruiz. Set design, Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden; costumes, Alessandra D'Ovidio; lighting, Ayun Fedorcha; sound, David Crandall. In Spanish with English surtitles. Approximately two hours. At GALA Theatre-Tivoli, 3333 14th St. NW. Call 800-494-TIXS or visit www.galatheatre.org.