nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 28, 2006
In the mythical country of Puritania, a mysterious woman called Madame of the Sacred Heart issues a challenge to the Marquise of Ahhh! and the Countess of Eh! to determine which is the more depraved. Their mission: humiliate the other's sex partner by forcing him to eat the forbidden vegetable (i.e., a carrot; zanahorias in Spanish). Their intended victims turn out to be the Marquise's husband, who is known as the Marquis of Ufff!, and the Countess's lover, who is no less a personage than the King of Puritania himself. Adding still more spice to the mix is Madame's revelation that the King and the Marquis are themselves lovers, making cuckolds (or whatever the female equivalent of a cuckold is) of the two "contestants." How will these "noble" ladies get the Marquis and the King to debase themselves? Who will emerge victorious?
For the answers to these and other pressing questions, you must see Zanahorias, a deliciously funny and smart satire by the young Spanish playwright Antonio Zancada. You'll be well rewarded if you do so, for this is one of the neatest finds of the season—a reminder not only that we Americans need to look beyond the British Isles for sassy and significant new European theatre, but also that we should look beyond our own petty pop culture concerns to embrace the world that's blooming and bustling all around us.
The people who inhabit the Puritania of this play are insufferable, by which I mean that they take self-absorption to a level so rarefied that we would turn away in disgust if we didn't realize right away that they're no worse than the Paris Hiltons, Kevin Federlines, Mel Gibsons, and all the other celebrities we love to simultaneously worship and hate. Even Madame of the Sacred Heart, engineer of the others' disgrace, is a haughty creature: Barbara Walters, perhaps, to her guests' Britney or Tom. Which is to say that the whole lot are enormous fun to watch and ogle: beautiful people acting ugly and low is our society's favorite spectator sport, right?
Zancada serves up the satire merrily and wittily, in a slightly raunchy absurdist framework grafted onto a Restoration comedy/tragedy background, so that the the whole thing feels like Les Liaisons Dangereueses distilled through Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade and then mixed liberally with early John Waters. Zancada doesn't shy away from the well-targeted barb: my favorite was one about Madame's servant, Josefina, who speaks in an indecipherable tongue that is definitely neither English nor Spanish: it's identified at one point as the "language of the people," and the assembled nobility are shocked that any of their number can actually understand it. By the way, Miriam Stenning and Francisco Reyes have translated and adapted Zanahorias from Spanish to English (performances in both languages alternate throughout the run).
This production, a U.S. premiere, is presented with loving care by Reyes, the Immediate Theater Company, and Puy Navarro. The design is lush and exquisite, featuring a stark and effective set by Regina Garcia and over-the-top costumes by Meghan E. Healey. Alfredo Galván directs the play with wicked, broad humor: the characters break the fourth wall frequently and gleefully and kid their archetypes even as they embrace them passionately. The cast is terrific, with co-producer/co-adapter Reyes starring as the King, a man who is not as callow as his gorgeous long blond locks at first lead us to believe. Beatriz Córdoba and Monica Steuer are hilarious as the competing Countess of Eh! and Marquise of Ahhh!, while Iva Gocheva is delightful as the incomprehensible servant Josefina. Bill Blechingberg is a hoot as the smarmy, slippery Marquis of Ufff! Rounding out the excellent company is the luminous Denise Quiñones as Madame of the Sacred Heart.
I had a blast at Zanahorias and I bet you will, too: it's got a spiky, vaguely subversive sensibility and a bawdy, rowdy sense of humor. It reminds us that our sacred cows need to be brought down to earth and put in their places, for their own good and ours. And it has a fun, zany time doing so.