Roxane Carrasco in "Bad Hombres/Good Wives" at San Diego Rep. Photo by Jim Carmody
The narco telenovelas so popular in Mexico and Latin American countries are the chief inspiration for Herbert Siguenza’s wild and crazy comedy “Bad Hombres/Good Wives,” a world premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre that is a guaranteed good time. A certain amount of abject silliness is expected from a spoof of this kind, and “Bad Hombres” delivers, but what makes it work is that no sight gag is belabored, no joke is run into the ground, and no one scene is allowed to drag. This joyously subversive spoof directed by Sam Woodhouse, the Rep’s artistic director, is paced just right.
Siguenza, playwright in residence at the Rep and a co-founder of the Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash, has drawn from not only over-the-top narco telenovelas but Moliere’s “School for Wives,” creating a romp that has an ardent feminist message amid all the clowning. The story set in the early ‘90s in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, finds chauvinistic drug-cartel kingpin Don Ernesto (John Padilla) recruiting a young girl raised in a convent (Yvette Angulo) to be his submissive, subservient wife. This gesture of muscle and machismo is soon compromised by the girl’s encounter at a train station with a handsome stranger (Jose Balistrieri), who turns out to be the son of Don Ernesto’s recently deceased rival in the drug trade.
But these complications are implying drama that is never taken seriously. Any tangible conflict is defused by the presence of Don Ernesto’s maidservant Armida (Siguenza, hilariously in drag), by the widow of his dead rival, an eye-patched banda superstar named Lucha Grande (Roxane Carrasco) and by a harried priest with fetishes (Ricardo Salinas, a Culture Clash cohort of Siguenza’s). Love and women’s rights conquer all in the end.
Whether it’s the raucous singalongs and dancing to the onstage music performed by Adrian Kuicho Rodriguez or the sheer zaniness of Siguenza, Salinas, Carrasco and the rest of the entertaining company, “Bad Hombres/Good Wives” is an undeniably fun theater experience. Among the many hysterical scenes is one in which Armida (Siguenza) instructs the bride-to-be Eva (Angulo) on the art of seducing a man. Memory burn is all but ensured.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 10/16/19.)
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.