The program cover describes “Learn To Be Latina” as “an entertainingly offensive romantic comedy.”
And in case you miss that, the pre-show announcement at the Diversionary Theatre alerts you to what’s coming: a hip-hop piece that goes “Hey, mothaf**ka, turn off your phone.”
The show is about the entertainment industry, and specifically about these two mantras: Talent is good, but marketability is more important. And the corollary: Ethnicity sells, if it’s the right one.
At the top of the show, Hanan Mashalani (Tamara Dhia) meets with stone-faced Three Stooges-like recording execs Jill (Amanda Cooley Davis), Bill (Dangerfield G. Moore) and Will (Steve Smith) about her demo recording.
They love her – until they find out she’s Lebanese-American (though born and raised in Boston), and dismiss her with the admonition to “Try not to bomb anything on your way out.”
But the day (and Hanan’s career) are saved by their boss, ethnic consultant Mary O’Malley (MBA, Ph.D. in ethnic studies, Berkeley), whose area of expertise is “race and representation in media and performance.” She has a pronounced Irish accent and a sock puppet/alter ego named Calcetina, who speaks excellent Spanish.
“I’m here to teach you how to fool the masses and make it in pop music without arousing suspicion from the Department of Homeland Security by passing as palatably ethnic,” Mary announces.
She will market Hanan as new Latina sensation Hanán because Latinas are hot and, after all, “identity is as negligible and negotiable as a back-alley hooker.”
Training begins with a Latina Assessment Test. Sample question: “Whitey McWhite-White owns a successful winery in Napa Valley. How many people does it take to pick the grapes in his vineyard? Express your answer in terms of undocumented workers.”
“Learn To Be Latina” explores issues of identity, pop culture, fame and gender in a decidedly politically incorrect (I’d even call it lewd, crude and rude) manner that will amuse most while offending some and tiring others (put me in the last category).
A wrench is thrown into the works when Hanan meets Blanca (Olivia Espinosa), aka “Office Bitch,” who picks up romantic vibes that Hanan at first swears are not there. But we all know where this will go.
The main question at hand, of course, is how much of her ethnic identity Hanan is willing to give up in the search for fame and fortune.
Urueta (whose own background is Colombian) has a good feel for the absurdity of ethnic labels and the lunacy of marketing in general, and lands many a jab at both on the way to the obvious denouement of the story.
“Learn To Be Latina” makes up in comic talent what it lacks in subtlety. Adams is a scream as “ethnic consultant” Mary, though her Calcetina persona, with that shrieky little voice, is sometimes difficult to understand.
Dhia’s Hanan is charming, innocent and shy. These characteristics – especially that last – will be severely tested by her relationship with Espinosa’s perfect, put-upon Blanca – the real Latina who understands the game.
“Learn To Be Latina” is gleefully vulgar and over-the-top. It’s also undeniable funny. It’s probably not for everyone, but if you’re longing to discard the fetters of political correctness (and good taste) for an evening, check it out.
“Learn To Be Latina” plays through Dec. 18 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.
Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
For tickets call (619) 220-0097 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.