No Problemo, Amigo
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
May 21, 2011
If immigrating to America is as difficult as it is for the lead in No Problemo Amigo, it’s a wonder anyone comes at all. Clocking long hours for volume-deficient bosses. Harassed by the Men In Black. Being arrested by old-timey sheriffs without provocation. And all of this in New York, the most diverse city in the union. Can you imagine what Arizona is like? If you’re intrigued but perplexed, you’re not alone. Such is the “problemo” with Jaime Espinal’s new play.
Espinal’s premise is, on the surface, funny. Jorge, played by Espinal, has reached for, and grabbed, that universal brass ring: entrance into the United States of America. But there’s a secret. Jorge is also a superhero...sort of. With our homegrown heroes charging inflated rates, President Obama has turned to the less costly alternatives of Latin America. What Jorge’s mission is we never really learn. It doesn’t matter, as Espinal never gives this major plot point the attention it requires.
Jorge’s real battles with evil come while manning the front desk at Exchange Students Paradise. Here, no one can pronounce his name (a joke beaten to death by curtain), his co-workers are beyond odd, and his boss is a shrill American-exceptionalist, who’s ready to send him packing at the drop of a sombrero. There’s also pushy Jehovah’s Witnesses, host parents who can’t stand their exchange students, and the before-mentioned Men In Black. And covering all this is an endless blanket of sound effects and electronic music. It’s enough to drown out even the most relevant message, including whatever Espinal wants us to know.
That Espinal throws every idea and theatre trick at us is a shame, as it diminishes the play’s better moments. In one scene, he projects a recorded Skype conversation with six friends from his home to express the loneliness and self-doubt felt by anyone who has ever moved away. It’s moving and insightful, but also preceded by a stripper dancing for a lawman with the worst Texas accent since George W. Bush. Espinal also skewers the problems faced upon trying to legally enter America. A woman attempting to get a visa tells the bureaucrat in charge she is here as a “tourist,” but is denied when he thinks she says “terrorist.” This received a mix of laughter and frustrated groans, telling me that Espinal has gotten the essence of this arduous process right.
No Problemo Amigo’s jumbled plot isn’t helped by the acting and Angel Gil Orrios’s directing. The cast, with the exception of Jorge Rave and Jesus Martinez, play for laughs instead of finding the humanity in their absurd characters. This style may work initially, but it quickly becomes exhausting. Orrios, who has a big job in managing the many scenes, doesn’t help his actors go deep enough. As designer, he’s also responsible for the curtain of gauze hanging between audience and stage. It’s used as a screen for the play’s technology, but in the end, becomes one more distraction this troubled play cannot afford.