WHO POPPED PAPI CHULO?
nytheatre.com review by Gregg Bellon
With Who Popped Papi Chulo?, Dan Domingues and David Lavine
have created a great one-man vehicle for its star, Mr. Domingues.
Essentially the story is of the rise and fall of Enrique Chulo,
Cuban balsero-cum-starfucker who finds himself in purgatory
fighting for his soul against the charges of three females. The
play provides Domingues the room to showcase his well-crafted
skill at transformation and physical articulation but paints a
rather simple and stereotypical portrait of its characters.
August 15, 2003
Domingues, who could pass as Antonio Banderas’ younger brother, gives Chulo a thick Ricky-Ricardo accent and a Miami pool boy outfit circa 1965; his characterization blends vaudevillian physical comedy with the broadness of drag (though he never changes costume). Sunning his well-toned, well-oiled Latin lover loins by the swimming pool at some Miami Beach Howard Johnson, Chulo basks in the immigrant American-Dream-success story of his life when an anonymous killer fires five bullets into him—specifically, into his face and his "papi chulo," the sources of his charm and maldad.
The scene shifts (minimally and efficiently) to purgatory, where Chulo has to defend his soul against the charges of his sexecutioner (sic), Cassandra. Hand on hip, chin thrown up, and British accent in full effect, Cassandra testifies to Chulo’s humble beginnings as a runaway balsero, fresh off the boat, who crashed through her bathroom skylight one fateful hot, steamy Miami night. Domingues is at his best as he transforms into each of the three female "witnesses" who each have valid yet evil reasons for damning Chulo, each of whom will have to testify through Chulo’s body. Ay, caramba, what a clusterf***! Actually it becomes quite fun to watch, as we meet Takima, Head of Hair and Makeup on "Chulo Live" and mother of Chulo’s bastard mulatto child, and Samantha, corn-fed, fresh-off-the-bus American Idol wanna-be… and Satan worshipper. Throw in Abuelito Chulo and Domingues does full-time on five characters.
But for all the layers and back-and-forth, the plot seems rather thin. Chulo himself refers to the television dramas that shaped his perception of the U.S.—Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Dallas—and this story line seems to fit right in with that group. Lavine and Domingues’ writing and Ted Sod’s direction show great technical precision, but the enduring feeling of the piece is of fake palm trees and fake accents. But like a great lounge act, it satisfies that guilty pleasure of fluffy, laugh-while-you-watch fun.