A sexually confused Filipino-American “ladyboy,” the drag princess’s sexually confused Mexican-American sort-of boyfriend, and the sort-of boyfriend’s just plain confused sort-of girlfriend, all three of them in massive states of denial, play out a centuries-old game of love and death in contemporary L.A. in Boni B. Alvarez’s Fixed, a Filipino-Latino telenovela come deliciously to life on the Atwater Village Echo Theater stage.

Taking as his twin sources of inspiration Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1637 Spanish-language tragedy El Médico De Su Honra and the “ball culture” depicted in the 1990 documentary classic Paris Is Burning, playwright Alvarez introduces us to masseuse Miracles Malacanang (Chris Aguila), crazy out of his or her head for Chicano hottie Mariano Fernandez (Wade Allain-Marcus), younger brother of L.A. County sheriff’s candidate Hudson Fernandez (Joseph Valdez) and forbidden by the latter’s campaign manager wife Dana (Renee-Marie Brewster) to lay hands, eyes, or anything else on Miracles till election day.

Not that Mariano needs much persuasion to keep his distance given how conflicted he is about having fallen for someone he’s never seen, or probably ever wants to see, out of drag.

Whatever the reason for Mariano’s absence these past six months, it’s prompted Miracles to contemplate sexual reassignment surgery, no matter that House Of Malacanang’s première ball queen is no more trans than either of her fellow drag-loving masseuses Jenny (Allen Lucky Weaver) and Carmie (Tonatiuh Elizarraraz) or massage parlor owner Gigi (Alvarez).

Clearly Miracles is one messed up “ladyboy,” and that’s not even counting what the poor girl doesn’t yet know, that Mariano’s been canoodling with spitfire Lizette Castro (Anna Lamadrid) as a Lizette-smitten AJ Chavez (Adrian Gonzalez) watches hopelessly from the wings.

If ever there was a tragedy about to unfold, this is it.

Playwright Alvarez has clearly seen his fair share of telenovelas, and Fixed’s mashup of ricos y pobres is straight (or not so straight) out of what you’d see on a Mexico City or Manila TV screen five nights a week, albeit with a whole lot more laughs along the way.

The writer has also clearly mastered the particular vernacular of its ball competition-loving protagonists. (“Why you always talkin’ ‘bout runnin’ off to him? I ain’t seen him try to come here in the last six months.”)

All of this adds up to a play that feels both familiar in its soap-operatic love quadrangles and exotic in its depiction of a culture most theatergoers may be at best only vaguely familiar with.

Rodney To directs his pitch-perfect ensemble with just the right mix of grit and flair, and it’s quite a cast that he’s assembled for this latest Echo Theater Company World Premiere.

Aguila is every bit as mesmerizing and heartbreaking here as he was this past year in Celebration Theatre’s Charm and Coeurage Theatre’s Nicky (another Alvarez gem), with Elizarraraz and Weaver looking as gorgeous in makeup and drag as they are sassy and sensational, and Alvarez makes Gigi the most fabulous plus-size drag queen ever to bulldoze her way over employees and customers alike.

Allain-Marcus is electrifying in his depiction of a man in conflict with his desires, dynamic duo Valdez and Brewster make Hudson and Jenny’s power-couple marriage worth its own spinoff, and Gonzales is equally terrific as the man Lizette (the deliciously quirky Lamadrid once again proving herself one of the year’s brightest discoveries) must be crazy not to fall for.

Scenic designer Amanda Knehan’s ingenious runway-like set alternates seamlessly between massage parlor/drag stage and the Fernandez family home, scene changes dramatically punctuated by Rebecca Kessin’s topnotch sound design. (Kudos to Kessin’s new-agey musical massage underscoring.) Matt Richter’s expert lighting design directs attention and enhances mood throughout, and Michael Mullen’s eclectic mix of costumes are some of his fabulous best.

Add to this Laurel Galanter’s RuPaul’s Drag Race-ready choreography and some realistic fight choreography by Ahmed Best and you’ve got yet another Echo Theater Company winner.

Fixed is produced by Jesse Cannady and Nadia Marina.

James Leo Ryan is assistant director and Christopher Oscar Peña is dramaturg. Haley Kellogg is production stage manager. Alexandra Freeman was rehearsal stage manager.

Once again showcasing Boni B. Alvarez’s unique playwriting voice and some of L.A. theater’s finest onstage and behind-the-scenes talents, Fixed packs one powerful punch.

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The Echo Theater Company @ Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village.

–Steven Stanley
September 29, 2017
Photos: Darrett Sanders

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