Spanglish

GALA Theatre's ''Puerto Rico…¡Fuá!'' is pretty much like taking a trip to the island – strange and surprising, but charming

Director Luis Caballero, with assist from Hugo Medrano, does a remarkable job of getting his cast to work as a team while allowing individuals to shine. GALA actor Anamer Castrello is allowed several solo turns to show off her golden husky voice, which to my ears recalls the great Puerto Rican pop star Olga Tañón. And GALA’s José Manuel Ozuna-Báez once again demonstrates his dazzling perma-smile and elastic moves – and he does double duty here, acting as lead choreographer and getting the other actors in line. Antonio Vargas assists Ozuna-Báez with the choreography, though you’ll remember Vargas best not for his moves but for playing first a hunky Indian wearing nothing but a short dress, and especially as a transvestite prostitute.

The top-flight eight-person ensemble, most of Puerto Rican descent, is at its best when satirizing the Americanization of their culture – including adopting Santa Claus and accepting his dubious gifts, from ketchup to hot dogs to ”holidays that have nothing to do with you,” specifically Halloween and Thanksgiving. The show also provides great laughs in its portrayal of Spanish rule and authority as an endless beauty pageant. The pretty Isabel H. Arraiza serves as the Puerto Rican pageant contestant repeatedly crowned with autonomy, only to have her reign revoked every few years or so.

Puerto Rico…¡Fuá!
starstarstar AND ONE HALF
To July 1
GALA Theatre
3333 14th St. NW
$20 to $40
202-234-7174
galatheatre.org

The show’s most effective metaphor is a wedding ceremony in which Uncle Sam (Joel Perez) is betrothed to Arraiza, once again playing the role of the ”Beautiful Island of Puerto Rico.” (Alicia Tessari’s costumes are fittingly funny.) Not that she’s happy to be here, in this case: She’s the unwitting spouse to Uncle Sam, and the officiating minister – a commanding Ricardo Puente – explains that she has no real say in the decisions Uncle Sam will make in both of their interests, except that she must be willing to fight and die in war. The minister proceeds to ignore the many Puerto Ricans with objections to the marriage. By the time of the ceremony, Arraiza is nothing more than a battered rag doll, repeatedly propped up by her American military husband as he leads them in a ceremonial dance. It may not be wedded bliss and happily ever after, but it sure is a bitingly funny moment.

Perez later portrays a ”Nuyorican,” a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent whose mixed-cultural identity is even more perplexing to the average American than those of island inhabitants. In other words, he’s pretty much a Floridian without the sunny disposition.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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