Destiny of Desire
Telenovela takes the stage at Goodman Theatre.
Like many of the best telenovelas, Destiny of Desire begins on a dark and stormy night. In Bellarica, Mexico, two baby girls are born in the same hospital. One girl is born into a family of poor farmers (Elisa Bocanegra and Mauricio Mendoza), the other, to a casino mogul (Cástulo Guerra) and his glamorous young wife (Ruth Livier). Add in a blackout, an avaricious doctor (Ricardo Gutierrez), and a mysterious nun (Evelina Fernández), and, well, recounting the plot further would take away half the excitement of watching it unfold.
Karen Zacarías' script keeps the twists — and the laughs — coming at a steady clip, requiring nothing of its audience but a willingness to have fun. Foreknowledge of the telenovela — an immensely popular genre of Latin-American soap operas — is not necessary to enjoy the buoyant humor, and the play wastes no time on explanation. For those who are familiar with the source material, Destiny of Desire hits its mark. It's a fine approximation of binge-watching your favorite telenovela, complete with an overwrought theme song and "Previously On…" segments.
But on the stage of the Goodman's Albert Theatre, there's an added layer of camp staginess that doesn't exist on a TV screen. Big, glossy set pieces designed by Francois-Pierre Couture are pushed along the Goodman stage by the cast, along with dramatic spotlights and, of course, wind machines. At first, the brazen theatricality of it all seems to be too much, but by the end of Act 1, it's difficult not to succumb to the whimsy of it all.
Under the buoyant direction of Jose Luis Valenzuela, the cast seems to share one goal: to have a good time. The male actors do a wonderful job, notably the deadpan Mauricio Mendoza as Ernesto and Eduardo Enrikez as the scintillating prodigal son Sebastian, but it is the women who drive Destiny of Desire. The two girls born on that fateful stormy night grow into beautiful, strong-willed women: the poetic Pilar Esperanza Castillo, played by the marvelously funny Esperanza America, and the sickly Victoria Maria del Rio, whose sobs and sighs are perfectly portioned out by Ella Saldana North. Ruth Livier seems to be having the time of her life playing Fabiola Castillo, the sexy, scheming second wife that every soap opera needs.
And, of course, there's singing and dancing, too. While Destiny of Desire is not a full musical, it does feature several musical numbers, all sung in Spanish, and accompanied by composer Rosino Serrano. The cast's voices are uniformly strong, and a lively dance number choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming brings down the house. The characters dance, slink, and preen in flattering costumes designed by Julie Weiss, which are as colorful and frothy as the play itself.
Before the end, the residents of Bellarica must survive love, betrayal, amnesia, mistaken identity, incest, and a handful of miraculous medical procedures. Destiny of Desire is unapologetically crowd-pleasing, a perfect escapist show that will elevate your spirit and leave you laughing.