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Sal Lopez as Euclio in 'La Olla' by Evelina Fernández at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (photo by Grettel Cortes)
Sal Lopez as Euclio in ‘La Olla’ by Evelina Fernández at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (photo by Grettel Cortes)

La Olla

Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Los Angeles Theatre Center
Through April 24

RECOMMENDED

This play with music by Evelina Fernández is a modern-day adaptation of The Pot of Gold by the ancient Roman playwright, Plautus.

The story takes place in a Mexican nightclub in East Los Angeles named La Olla. The floor-show at the club is a catch-as-catch-can assemblage that includes an alcoholic opera singer, La Diva (Esperanza America), a tenor, Lyconides (Sam Golzari), and an untalented clown and bit-player, Euclio (Sal Lopez). There are also a magician and a ventriloquist.

The club’s manager and emcee, Sobersides (Cástulo Guerra), is deeply in debt to the wrong people, and the club-owner, wealthy Megadorus (Geoffrey Rivas), is rumored to be light in his loafers. The establishment’s stage manager and general factotum, Staphyla (playwright Fernández), is a tough broad with a cigarette eternally dangling from her lips.

Presiding over all is Genesius (Fidel Gomez), patron saint of actors and theatre folk, who serves as a sort of deus ex machina. He wants to provide a fortune to Euclio’s daughter Phaedria (America again) to ensure her future happiness. He somehow arranges for a trio of low-comedy robbers to escape the police by taking refuge in the club. They hide their swag, a fortune in gold, in a large black pot among the costumes. But it’s Euclio, not Phaedria, who discovers the treasure, and is instantly transformed into a paranoid miser.

Phaedria, meanwhile, is hugely pregnant (though no one seems to notice), having been seduced by Lyconides, who loves and wants to marry her. But Megadorus, Lyconides’ uncle, wants to marry her too, and is already arranging a wedding. And the convoluted plot spins on.

Fernández’s play is a crazy grab-bag of zany characters, nutty plot-twists, and gags that were already ancient when Plautus was a pup. It’s a generic relative of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and El Grande de CocaCola, and Euclio is clearly an ancestor of Moliere’s The Miser. (There were some who declared that El Grande was racist, but here the same brand of comedy is offered by a Latino company, so you can hardly call it racist.)

Director José Luis Valenzuela captures the free-wheeling spirit of the play, and gleefully shepherds his nimble and versatile ensemble through their various roles (Performer Xavi Moreno stands out filling a variety of smaller ones.). Lopez lends a sad-sack Chaplin-esque charm to Euclio, the third-rate actor who longs to recapture the glory of his more talented grandfather. As La Diva, America delivers a rendition of Carmen’s “Habanera”; as Phaedria, she spends most of the play on the verge of giving birth. Golzari performs a couple of interpolated
pop songs, and actress-writer Fernández wins laughter on almost every entrance.

Designer Yee Eun Nam’s interesting set features the busiest turn-table since the Ziegfeld Follies. Urbanie Lucero provides the lively choreography.

 

The Latino Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 Spring Street, downtown Los Angeles. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Mon., April 11, 7:30 p.m. Dark April 14. 866-811-4111 or www.thelatc.org. Running time: One hour and 25 minutes with no intermission.

 

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