GALA Hispanic Theatre Puerto Rico ¡Fuá!By Joe Adcock • Jun 11th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
GALA Hispanic Theatre
Tivoli Theatre, Washington DC
Through July 1st
2 hours with intermission
Reviewed June 10th, 2012
Style: Goofy, raucous and irreverent. Content: Poignant, troubling and even tragic at times. Result: Puerto Rico !Fua!, an engaging musical review that has been playing in one place or another for the past 35 years. It’s here in DC now at the GALA Hispanic Theatre.
First off — what’s with ¡Fuá! ? Like the show itself, that little exclamation characteristic of Puerto Rican Spanish can be either raucous and goofy or troubling and poignant. Usually “fuá” is an oral emoticon on the order of wow! or whoa! or hey! But at times, as in the mostly serious final scene in Puerto Rico ¡Fuá!, it is an untranslatable exhortation to get busy, to take heart, to push hard, to transcend fear and cynicism and to get gutsy and real.
(I’m telling you all this with two bases of authority: 1. Years ago I lived and worked in Puerto Rico. 2. Before the GALA show started I was chatting with a guy, a Nuyorican who was born in the Bronx but who regularly visits relatives in Puerto Rico. I asked him about “fuá.” For about five minutes he explored for me the word’s various connotations and contexts. You don’t have to know Spanish, or even Spanglish, by the way, to enjoy Puerto Rico ¡Fuá!. GALA provides translations into English of the dialog and lyrics on projection screens above the stage.)
Eight peppy, talented and versatile actors — five men and three women — perform dozens of vignette roles. The arc of the show covers, chronologically, pre-Spanish conquest pre-history to the present. A five-member combo (Banda sin Miedo, The Fearless Band) provides spirited musical backup. Styles range from salsa and bolero to tango and mambo.
The show’s grotesque/farcical sequence of 32 scenes starts with the native Taino people contending with cannibals from neighboring islands. Then come the Spanish soldiers, who pretty much exterminate the Tainos what with the Spaniards frenzy for gold, not to mention their deadly diseases. Then come the priests, backed by the ghastly, grisly Inquisition — forswear your native religion or experience torture and death. Both Tainos and then the Africans who eventually took their places as slaves, contend with the incomprehensible Spanish language and the even more incomprehensible Roman Catholic theology: There is only one God, get that!? But he’s really three entities — father, son and holy ghost. Puzzling? Shut up and remember it. Or die. The choice is yours.
When the Puerto Rican population had more or less blended into a stable community by the beginning of the 19th Century, along came revolutions against Spanish misrule — stretching from Chile and Argentina to Mexico. But not to Puerto Rico. Bummer. About 100 years later along came the Spanish-American War. Cuba got its independence. Puerto Rico did not. Bummer. Comically troubling bewilderments evolve into the peculiar form of contemporary colonialism that gives Puerto Ricans US citizenship but not the right to vote in US elections. Similar to the Spaniards’ brain-spraining Catholic catechism is the American furor about cramming the English language into Spanish-speaking children.
Some of this material is handled by two clowns doing giddy patter and timeless slapstick — even when the clowns’ job is to get rid of the bodies of drafted Puerto Rican soldiers killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Downright heart-stopping is a folklore ritual performed by starving small farmers. Performers wearing ingenious three-dimensional cartoon horses held up by suspenders weave around and the stage and sing about their sorry lot. The ritual is an impoverished imitation of wealthy Spaniards parading about on high-stepping “paso fino” horses. Eventually the dancers are too weak from hunger to continue, and they are dragged off stage by compassionate comrades.
Strange but affecting is a scene with two men doing an exquisitely choreographed tango. That is juxtaposed to a dark comedy cartoon scene in which a hyper Uncle Sam marries and then dances with an exhausted female embodiment of Puerto Rico.
GALA director/designer Luis Caballero keeps his performers go-go-going, whether the material is ghastly or giddy or both. He provides settings and costumes that evoke a battered traveling circus/carnival. The effect of Caballero and playwright Carlos Ferrari’s every-which-way amalgam is both entertaining and troubling.
Photos by Nick Eckert.
- Ricardo Puente
- Joel Perez
- Antonio Vargas
- Rita Ortiz
- Jeffrey Hernandez
- Anamer Castrello
- Jose Manuel Ozuna-Baez
- Isabel Arraiza
- Didier Prossaid: Keyboard, Guitar
- Christian Gonzales: Electric Bass
- Antonio Orta: Saxophone, Flute
- Alex Norris: Trumpet
- Alfredo Mojica: Drums, Percussion
- Director: Luis Caballero
- Directing Collaborator: Hugo Medrano
- Musical Director: Didier Prossaird
- Scenic Design: Luciana Stecconi
- Lighting Design: Andrew F. Griffin
- Costume and Properties Design: Alicia Tessari Neiman
- Sound Design: Brendon Vierra
- Choreographer: Jose Manuel Ozuna-Baez
- Choreography Collaborator: Antonio Vargas
- Vocal Coach: Diana Saez
- Stage Manager: Cody Whitfield
- Technical Director: Andres Luque
- Producer: Abel Lopez
Disclaimer: GALA Hispanic Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8174.
Joe Adcock lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.