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A Day to Remember

Stages digs into the joy, and the pain, of Billie Holiday's life

Leguizamo's show earned respect for honestly drawn Colombian-American characters who were 1) pretty damn funny and 2) not without pathos. Ranging from the irreverent nine-year-old Miggy to the family's patriarch, Felix, Spic-O-Rama slices moments of the past into the story of Krazy Willie's wedding, delivering a package of family history to an audience that becomes accustomed to tragic body blows sneaking up out of the writer's endearingly funny moments.

Director Lidia Porto has cleverly segued the scene breaks with live hip-hop dancers (who knew that ushers and ticket takers could spin on their shoulders?) and a blend of lively Latin music. And Fernando Zamudio and Chip Mantre have transformed Talento Bilingue's spare stage into sections that include a driveway, a bedroom and a Laundromat -- a new and welcome dimension in TB productions.

The play opens with Miggy's science project, a family tree aided by that trusty piece of elementary school equipment, the slide projector. Through the tree we discover that Felix has a number of girlfriends, that brother Willie's fading moment of glory came during his service in Desert Storm and that brother Raphael aspires to all things Caucasian -- blond hair, bland accents and, of course, Shakespeare. Miggy's frustration, however, stems largely from his parents' marital discord, and his own desire to show off his particular brand of hip-hop street dance.

Garcia's interpretation of Miggy is the weakest of the bunch; he's poorly paced and unfocused, despite the strength of the writing. The evening's strongest performance (which is, alas, still marred by cliched drag posturing) comes in Garcia's Gladyz, the family matriarch whose youth was given over to childbearing and whose sense of humor has been nearly choked off by her husband's philandering. Aside from a few twitchy moments, Garcia handles Gladyz with a delicacy that's rare in a young actor.

Like many character-driven works, Spic-O-Rama occasionally wears thin, but the escalating seriousness of the stories, and of Garcia's performance, helps pin the humor to something more substantial. The best comedy offers a gasp of truth, and Garcia plays the weighty moments honestly.

Lady Day atEmerson's Bar & Grill plays through March 16 at Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 527-0220.

Spic-O-Rama plays through March 29 at Talento Bilingue Houston's Cultural Arts Center, 333 South Jensen, 869-8927.

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