Dumb and Dona

Steve Lovett's Mambo Girl floats on the aesthetic airwaves somewhere between old reruns of Benny Hill and the more family-friendly Carol Burnett Show. Think Tim Conway frolicking across the tube in yellow pigtails and polka dots followed by Hill gawking at the tightly sweatered chest of a blond secretary and you've got the picture. This is tasteless inanity worth a few good giggles, despite the wheelchair jokes, bad puns, ludicrous scenarios and amateur acting at Stargaze Theatre.

A bad farce needs a silly setting, and for some totally unknowable reason, Lovett has set his in Rio de la Plata, "a capital city of a mythical South American country," as the program tells us. The only advantage is that the characters (most of whom are played by Anglos) get to speak in bad Spanish accents as they flounce about the stage filled with cartoon-styled backdrops of tiled haciendas and patios, courtesy of set designer Christian DeVries. There is nothing intrinsically Latin about the ridiculous tale, but the men fit all the stereotypes, wearing tight pants and thin mustaches, as the beefy ladies (played by men) swoon and fan themselves, delirious with love.

The opening scene introduces evil Antonieta (Oliver Blanco) and pert Paola (Erik Soliz), two wealthy sisters who couldn't be more opposite. Antonieta, who recently won a Miss Public Utility Pageant, is the "lovely" spendthrift of the family, while plain Paola tries to manage the fast-dwindling finances left by their rich, dead father. Blanco makes a beefsteak of a lady, who stomps across the stage in a silky dress that flows over her mountainous bosom. His Antonieta is the sister from hell, the sort who barks at the maid, demands money for trashy trinkets and steals her own sibling's boyfriend.

Soliz, who stomps a bit himself as he high-wires about on his satin, champagne-colored heels, makes a breathy, fluttery underdog who cares for everyone, even her rotten sister. Sensible Paola is thought to be the plain girl of the family, and she kowtows to her screeching sissy's every demand, which is why she ends up at a nunnery when the family estate is lost to Antonieta's unquenchable desires.

As a sort of singing nun who doesn't play the guitar -- a point she makes by handing her guitar case to a stagehand -- Paola finds happiness wearing a checkered pinafore and growing out her blond hair. But the Reverend Mother Mary (Janice Dickard), who wears a low-cut black habit and a cross dripping in rhinestones, doesn't much cotton to Paola's insanely smiling energy.

The not-so-good Mother pushes Paola back into the world after giving her chopped-up bits of hackneyed advice such as "you've got to give a little" and "come on, get happy" and "you're gonna make it after all." Filled with knowing nods to TV and pop music, Lovett's script is nothing if not eternally self-aware, a quality that keeps the show amusing despite the story's utter foolishness.

Paola ends up as a nanny at the home of Don Donnie de Lagrimas (DeVries). In his House of Tears, she rises to the occasion and tames the tantrums of pigtailed Chickleta (Ryan Zuckero), the dark desires of 17-year-old Veronica (Amy Kennedy) and the suspicions of Dona Carla de Lagrimas (Dickard), the matron of the household who's been stuck in a wheelchair ever since she slipped on guacamole on the staircase. Of course, the cruel and hateful Dona Carla is right to suspect the growing affections between Paola and her husband. But good Paola would never act on her desires.

The wacky soap opera sends Paola farther and farther from her father's home until she finds herself dancing on a stage in Brazil as a one-eyed mambo girl. As the story gets more insane, it gets funnier. There's the flock of flamingos, the earthquake, the double murder and the plane crash for the story to make sense in Lovett's strange logic.

The production gets stronger in the later scenes, as the performers warm up to the audience. There were several dropped lines and awkward moments in the performance that was reviewed. But by the end, everyone seemed to be in the ballpark if not on target. However, the inexperienced actors, who clearly need some help, seemed to be floundering with Lovett's rangy script. This is a show that needs a director with a clear -- though decidedly asinine -- vision. As it now stands, Mikel Reper's direction appears to be nonexistent; even the blocking is clumsy at best.

But Soliz's fluttering Paola, who's on stage almost every minute, rises above the failings of the cruel world, as well as the cruelties of this production, to save the day. His dainty but strong-willed survivor is often hysterical, despite the absurdity of her story.

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Lee Williams