If you’ve ever paused to watch a telenovela on a Spanish-language channel out of curiosity, you may now satisfy that in full at the Goodman Theatre. Karen Zacarias’ telenovela-inspired DESTINY OF DESIRE plays in glorious color through April 16th. And it’s in English, a few rapid-fire dialogue exchanges and charming songs aside.
We’ve got soap opera in America, those afternoon micro-portions of steamy lives. But much of the world, including Latin America and Asia, tunes into these serial dramas during prime time. Romance, sex, murder, secrets and betrayals fill storylines that go on for months. In DESTINY OF DESIRE, Zacarias has fashioned a stage play that manages to be both self-parodying and true to the genre.
DESTINY OF DESIRE’s baby swap
Directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, the production lets you in on the joke even before the lights go down. The cast, dressed in street clothes that are fabulous in their own right, preps for the performance with warm-ups and cellphone shots of the audience. House lights down, stage lights up – and billowing white curtains drop to establish a hospital in a Mexican casino town.
There, two women labor to give birth – the trophy wife of the casino owner and the earthy wife of a local farmer. Wealthy Fabiola’s daughter is frail while impoverished Hortencia’s daughter is robust. Fabiola secretly maneuvers a baby swap and its repercussions fuel the plot that picks up eighteen years later.
Daughters Pilar and Victoria have grown up in the wrong households but both, in their distinct ways, are stunning beauties. Plus smart and ambitious. Enter a couple of sons, one prodigal and one idealistic, and the rest is histrionics of the highest order.
Goodman production embeds a serious message
In Julie Weiss’ eye-candy costumes, the terrific cast tells this tale of passion, violence, adultery, incest and a smoldering lesbian smooch with the total conviction that it demands. Meanwhile, director Valenzuela has framed the proceedings with placards such as “Taking a Chance on Love,” “A Surprising Turn of Events” and “Regrets over Drinks.” These winks to the audience create a lively insider-outsider duality.
The actors also break the fourth wall with statistics about the U.S. prison population, sexual harassment among minimum wage workers, children who set off firearms at home and Toyota Corolla sales to Latinos. Once you stop laughing, you realize the hard truths embedded in the crazy joy ride.
Social injustice is as much part of the script as the outrageous plot twists. When the poor farmer discovers that a local doctor has treated his daughter with useless medical procedures for his own benefit, the doctor reminds him that “the world could swallow you up and no one would notice.” One character notes “the poor are invisible” while another points out that “people overlook women of a certain age.”
Income and gender determine destiny most of the time. Embracing its telenovela format, DESTINY OF DESIRE shows how individuals can subvert social norms and forge different futures for themselves through pluck, luck – and outfits that would make a peacock proud.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
170 N. Dearborn St.
Now through April 16
Wednesdays at 7:30 PM
Thursdays & Sundays at 2:00 & 7:30 PM
Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 2:00 & 8:00 PM
$20 – 75
Note: This play has been added to the Picture this Post roundup of BEST PLAYS. Click here to find this and more at "Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves".
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in summer 2017.