Passions ignite—and then some—in Destiny Of Desire, Karen Zacarías’s muy deliciosa musical comedy spoof of the world’s most popular TV genre, la telenovela, now treating South Coast Repertory audiences to two-and-a-half hours of scrumptiously over-the-top love, lust, and laughs.

destiny1 Wealthy Mexican casino owner’s wife Fabiola Castillo (Ruth Livier) and dirt-poor farmer’s wife Hortensia del Rio (Elisa Bocanegra) each give birth to a daughter on the same dark stormy night, news that would overjoy them both had Fabiola’s newborn not been cursed with a heart so weak, the likelihood of her survival past infancy is little to none, and what’s worse, Fabiola’s doctor Jorge Ramiro Mendoza (Ricardo Gutierrez) has declared his patient incapable of conceiving another child.

Fortunately for Fabiola, Hortensia’s newborn couldn’t be more hale and hearty, and so with the help of nurse accomplice Sister Sonia (Evelina Fernández), the two baby girls get switched, and why not? After all, as Fabiola puts it, “The poor expect to suffer.”

Notwithstanding Dr. Jorge’s dire prognosis, both infants grow to young womanhood.

destiny2 Meanwhile, as if life hadn’t already thrown casino owner Armando (Cástulo Guerra) enough curves, his estranged adult son Sebastián (Eduardo Enrikez) has returned to town, a chance meeting with half-sister Pilar (Esperanza America) seemingly incest bound were Pilar not really farmer Ernesto (Mauricio Mendoza) and Hortensia’s birth child.

Did I mention that Armando is rumored to have murdered his first wife, that Hortensia has been working for the Castillos as their maid, that Dr. Jorge has been carrying on an adulterous love affair with Hortensia, and that the good doctor’s physician son Diego (Fidel Gomez) has fallen for born rich/raised poor Victoria (Ella Saldana North)?

destiny4 Outlandish as all this might seem, it is stories precisely like these that have kept Latin Americans glued to their TV sets five nights a week for decades, and playwright Zacarías clearly knows of what she writes.

destiny3 In fact there’s nothing in Destiny Of Desire that might not also transpire on Savage Heart, Abyss Of Passion, or Fire In The Blood (yes, telenovela titles really are that over-the-top), including heart-pounding cliffhangers, which Destiny Of Desire approximates with reverse-motion bits that allow us to experience both an episode’s climactic moments and the next evening’s opening resolution.

Meanwhile, sporadically inserted factoids like “Last year in the United States, 278 children under the age of 18 picked up a firearm and accidentally shot themselves or someone else” not only score laughs but make it clear that however exaggerated Zacarías’s play may appear to be, it’s not all that far removed from our own North American reality.

destiny6 Under José Luis Valenzuela’s inspired direction, Destiny Of Desire’s all-Latino cast literally dance about the Segerstrom Stage, and not just when performing Rosino Serrano’s catchy original songs (of which there are so many that D.O.D. could just as easily be called a musical as a comedy) to Robert Barry Fleming’s tango-meets-ballet-meets-salsa choreography but even between scenes given titillating titles like “Secrets And Lies,” “Sorrow And Loss,” and “Life, Destiny, and Denouement.”

destiny-mimi1 America’s passionate Pilar, Bocanegra’s plucky Hortensia, Enrikez’s studly Sebastián, Fernández’s commanding Sister Sonia, Gomez’s stalwart Dr. Diego, Guerra’s magnetic Armando, Gutierrez’s earnest Dr. Jorge, Mendoza’s earthy Ernesto, North’s endearing Victoria, and above all Livier’s divaluscious Fabiola (who could give Erica Kane a run for her money any day or night) make for an absolutely sensational triple-threat cast.

For its West Coast Premiere, South Coast Rep has reunited Destiny Of Desire’s entire 2015 Arena Stage production design team headed by scenic designer Pierre-François Couture, whose set’s undulating gauze curtains are but one of its oh so ingenious wonders. Julie Weiss’s character-and-class-revealing costumes would do any telenovela proud as would Pablo Santiago’s dramatic lighting and John Zalewski’s equally exciting sound design, including occasional foley effects.

Bree Sherry is stage manager and Lilly Deerwater is assistant stage manager. Tory Davidson is assistant to the director. Joshua Marchesi is production manager.

Destiny of Desire is a co-production with Goodman Theatre. Casting is by Joanne DeNaut, CSA and Adam Belcuore, CSA.

destiny5 From the LBJ bio-drama All The Way to the Shakespeare-redux Distant Merchants to this one-of-a-kind fall finale, South Coast Repertory is batting tres out of tres. Teatro doesn’t get more telenovelicioso than Destiny Of Desire.

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South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
October 25, 2106
Photos: Debora Robinson/SCR, Ben Horak/SCR

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