El insolito caso de Mis' Pina Colada
nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
June 4, 2010
I left Repertorio Espanol's production of El Insolito Caso de Mis' Pina Colada thinking, "that is just what I needed." This is one hilarious play, a true romp, completely, from beginning to end. Everything that happens in this play is hilarious, the characters are hilarious, the situations are hilarious, and the fact that we find ourselves caring what happens is hilarious too.
Pina Colada starts with the typical Puerto Rican mother, Ofelia. There's only one thing that matters to her, the success of her children so that she can rub it in the face of all her neighbors—specifically, the gossipiest woman in town, Esperancita, who has decided to enter her daughter into the Mis' Pina Colada Contest. So the gauntlet is thrown, and Ofelia picks it up with a relish that makes Mama Rose seem like a convent nun in comparison, entering her plain daughter Loreley into the contest and setting up one of the funniest comedies I've seen in quite some time.
All of this happens in the first scene of the play and what follows is a structural wonder, as the situation gets more ridiculous by the minute. Ofelia goes off the deep end, getting herself into ever-growing debt to prove that her daughter is better than Esperancita's. And involucrating her two other children, to not only raise the funds for Loreley's makeover, but to make sure that her daughter wins. The twists and turns are tragically hysterical. As her very well-raised kids set off to raise the funds by any means necessary, there is a wonderfully subtle bit in which we see the most responsible and intelligent of her children slowly evolve into... (Well, I would tell you, but then what would be the fun in that.)
And yet even after all the ridiculousness of the piece, El Insolito Caso de Mis' Pina Colada still manages to make you care about the characters. Because the play is as close to a character study as a farce can get without slowing its pace, each character has a need, and each character wants something, and we see them negotiate and re-negotiate throughout the play as the mother asks each of them to surrender their own needs to the needs of her master plan. Even Ofelia's brother Domingo, who prides himself in not lifting a finger, ends up capitulating to her. This is a woman with a mission and nothing will get in her way.
Ofelia the stage mother from hell is deliciously played by Wanda Arriaga, with a kind of commitment that forces the rest of the cast members to keep up with her. She is a fool who is nobody's fool, and her manic energy is infectious. Her nemesis Esperancita, played by Iliana Guibert, is the perfect foil; she is calm and collected knowing that with the right choice of words she can send her enemy into a complete frenzy, and the brilliant Guibert has a way with the role that is a joy to watch.
Director Rene Buch keeps the play moving in a steady, breezy manner, he does nothing showy, he keeps the emphasis on the story, making each moment specific, which actually accentuates the comedy without complicating it. This type of comedy is hard, it's all in the timing, but also in the fact that you can't play the comedy, you have to be real characters caught up in the situation. The rest of the committed cast is almost there, and as I attended the show early in its run, I have no doubt that once the players get the show under their belts, it will fly. I can't wait to see it again in a couple of weeks, when all the elements of the play come together for what it sure to become one of the most refreshing theatrical experiences of the summer.