December 7, 2007

Viva satire! Rick Najera’s “Sweet 15 (Quinceañera)”

By Michael Klam

You’ll have to leave your patriotism, your religion, and your sense of propriety at the door for this one. And above all, you’ll have to abandon political correctness. It could be just what you’re looking for, just what you need to flush out your paradigms, your dogma, and to rethink your rituals.

Unless you’ve got next year off to explain the connection between marlin fishing, gonorrhea and bitch-slapping a man of the cloth, maybe the kids should stay home this time!

San Diego native Rick Najera’s “Sweet 15 (Quinceañera)” takes the exalted coming of age party for 15-year-old daughters and hits it with the (psychedelic) ugly stick. Nothing is sacred, neither priests nor grandmothers, in this interactive, fast-paced comedy where an aging pot-bellied Latin-pop star collides with a Tijuana drug lord, a Hillcrest party planner, a raunchy grandma and a father who just wants to get back his chance to finally give his 25-year-old daughter her Quinceañera.

Phew! That was a mouthful. Here’s a bit of the plot-line: Eddy, the dad, comes back from Mexico stacked with cash that he made from shady real estate deals. His daughter, Sonora (Nina Brissey), now 25 and recently accepted to Stanford Law School, is shocked to find out that dad has paid off mom (who first smacks Eddy then falls for him again) and her floozy borracha grandma, Chata (Alma Martínez), half a million dollars each to go along with his Quinceañera dream.

Najera plays the father and manages, along with some help from his friends, to convince Sonora to have the party. He hires Jorge of “Fabulous Fiestas,” played by Carlo D’Amore, whose comic timing and ability to engage the audience is fun to watch. Jorge brings in a bloated lounge lizard (Fernando Vega) who looks like a combination of Bill Murray and Elvis after the barbiturates but has a surprising voice that incites applause — he tells the REP audience that hoots and whistles for him, “This is not lip sync.”

Jorge blows the money that he was supposed to spend on the party and turns the Quinceañera into a bordello of stripper humor, one-liners and homophobia. He ends up in an Aztec ritual dance, wearing a Leopard skin Speedo. The bit is not without laughs and at times hilarious, but the lowbrow humor gets a little tedious.

Throughout, the audience eats up Chata’s commentaries. When convincing Sonora to take the money and go to Stanford (dad also offers her cash to say yes to the party), Chata explains, “As soon as you become a lawyer, you can rob banks legally.”

And Najera’s line, “A girl may get married many times, but she only gets one Quinceañera,” is received with uproar and applause.

The performance is full of local references, from National City to the San Diego Zoo to poking fun at “Triple Espresso: A Highly Caffeinated Comedy” — “Enough already!” — to getting lost in the Horton Plaza parking lot, “Was it a fruit or a vegetable?”

Najera’s career in television writing (“Mad TV,” “In Living Color,” “Buford Gomez”) and sketch comedy (“Latinologues” and “Latins Anonymous”) reveals itself in “Sweet 15.” The show unfolds like a series of well-transitioned, interwoven skits, and the lines are timed and delivered to guarantee a laugh.

There are sentimental moments, sometimes sweet, but sometimes out of place among the sitcom-style buffoonery.

Najera poses some important questions, though. Sonora calls the Quinceañera a “pre-wedding auction block.” Wouldn’t it be better to save all that Quinceañera money, and send young women off to college?

The REP’s Artistic Director, Sam Woodhouse, directs, and the show is well cast, including José Yenque who played opposite Benicio Del Toro in the film, “Traffic.”

The large, colorful set, designed by Ron Ranson, includes live projected film images and scenic shots put together by Tom Ontiveros.

While “Sweet 15” will certainly offend some, it is also guaranteed to make even the most tightly wound puritan laugh. And Najera has created a wild party that’s worth attending.

“Sweet 15” runs through Dec. 16 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Theatre, Horton Plaza, downtown. 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $24-$44. Call: (619) 544-1000. Visit: sandiegorep.com

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