In Jacobo Langsner’s Spanish-language comedy Esperando la carroza (Waiting for the Hearse), the wives of three brothers bicker over who will care for Mama Cora, the elderly and somewhat demented family matriarch. Directed by Alejandro Vales, the show is currently running in Little Havana’s Teatro de Bellas Artes.
The wealthiest couple, Nora (Carolina Laursen) and Antonio (Claudio Giudice) deflect responsibility for Mama Cora through hypocritical benevolent posturing. Middle-class Sergio (Alejandro Vales) and Elvira (Jessica Álvarez Dieguez) turn a blind eye to the situation. Susana (Yanina Aranes) and Jorge (Fred Karis) are the poorest, yet they’ve been saddled with the responsibility for the last four years.
Susana is at her wit’s end trying to cope with Mama Cora, a crying baby and a whiny husband. In the opening scene, she vigorously whisks egg whites and oil to make mayonnaise, and when she turns her back for just a minute, Mama Cora (Fabian De Paz dressed as an old lady) makes a show of dumping the mayonnaise and other ingredients in a muffin tin and putting it in the oven. By the time Susan has returned, the mayonnaise has disappeared and the kitchen is a disaster. Susana and Mama Cora slip and slide across the dirty floor in a display of physical comedy reminiscent of Lucille Ball’s clowning on I Love Lucy. Much of Esperando la Carroza’s comedy stems from this slapstick brand of over-the-top physicality. What’s more, the 11-member cast delivers its screwball antics in a decidedly Argentine manner.
Playing on the stereotype of Argentinians as melodramatic, there’s much fist shaking and arm waving. The actors’ Spanish bounces with a characteristic Italian-sounding cadence (about 60 percent of Argentina’s population is of Italian descent). On Saturday’s opening night, the mostly Argentine crowd laughed heartily at the play’s tropes.
Clearly, Cirko Teatro has found an audience; however, the play suffers from a lack of originality and variety. The play is just under two hours with and intermission, and the thin plotline and easy humor grow repetitive and tedious. Three superfluous characters (a widowed sister, a neighbor and a delivery boy) introduced in the second half add nothing significant to the plot. What’s more, the script doesn’t offer much in the way of character development; therefore, the actors have little recourse but to play their character types to the extreme. For example, Nora and Sergio flirt shamelessly, but their attraction seems improbable. She’s a well-dressed attractive woman; he’s a disheveled slob. At one point Nora mentions her father’s working class origins, which could be a clue to her puzzling attraction to Sergio, but the play doesn’t explore that connection.
Cirko Teatro goes for easy laughs and they get them, but the energy and resourcefulness of the three lead actresses (Dieguez, Aranes, and Laursen), led me to believe this company is capable of offering comedy with more content.