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The Washington Post
The Goofy Side Of 'Puerto Rico'
June 11, 2003
"Puerto Rico En . . . cantado" is not exactly cutting-edge comedy. The jokes are cheap and the skits are silly. Yet there is a loopy vitality to the hard-charging antics of Angel Vazquez and Ernesto Concepcion, author and director, respectively, of this lively if sophomoric sendup of the cultural cross-currents on a certain island commonwealth in the Caribbean.
Vazquez and Concepcion are the entertainers-in-chief for a goofy cruise through Puerto Rican politics and the psyche of a people who harbor deeply mixed feelings about their powerful overseers on the mainland. To be sure, a lot of the gags get lost in translation. (My Spanish was far too rusty for me to pass up the headphones supplying simultaneous dialogue in English.) And it helps greatly, in this Gala Hispanic Theatre production, to be familiar with the names and byzantine forces driving obsessions there, like the question of statehood.
But this exploration of the mind-set of the citizens of what amounts to an American colony is also instructive. The ellipses in "Puerto Rico En . . . cantado" ("Puerto Rico En . . . chanted") are the author's ironic acknowledgement of both the pat ideas outsiders have of Puerto Rico and the more complex image that the island has of itself.
Vazquez and Concepcion play a couple of "Juanes del Pueblo" -- John Does -- returning to the commonwealth from the United States, where they've had their notions reinforced about Puerto Rico's lowly place in the cultural pecking order. An airplane captain's voice comes over the public address system of the Warehouse Theatre: "We'd like to remind you," he says, "that there are no first-class seats on board."
The overly broad sketches include a lampoon of George W. Bush (in a 20-gallon Stetson); a lampoon of his predecessor (mostly via really bad sex puns); and a lampoon of Puerto Rican history, from prehistory to the American era that commenced with the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Employing only a few rudimentary props, the playwright sets his sights on all the expected targets, from Vieques to Benicio del Toro, with some college-level political incorrectness tossed in about gays and feminists. The best stuff lies in the mimicry of American attitudes about Puerto Rico, explored through flat, Anglicized Spanish accents and, especially, a funny dig at "West Side Story."
But the young actors are better singers than they are parodists, and they raise their voices and swivel their hips appealingly through a series of numbers, some of them written to famous pop tunes by the Beatles and Ricky Martin. (The performers, though, miss a golden opportunity to submit Martin to some serious ribbing.) The evening's most memorable moment is supplied by one of a pair of actresses, Vicky Leyva, delivering a stirring rendition of a mushy song about the island, "Preciosa."
With a more polished script and higher comic standards, the tag team of Vazquez and Concepcion might be on to something. As it is, "Puerto Rico En . . . cantado" is chiefly for those who have left their hearts in San . . . Juan.
Puerto Rico En . . . cantado, by Angel Vazquez. Directed by Ernesto Concepcion. Musical director, Willie Roman; lighting, Ayun Fedorcha; costumes, Diana Sirak. With Vera Soltero. Approximately 90 minutes. Through June 22 at Warehouse Theatre, 1021 Seventh St. NW. Call 202-234-7174 or visit www.galatheatre.org.