In a little town south of the border, Pepe Hernandez manages to convince his uncle, the manager of the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, to front him some money so he can bring in international stars to put on a variety show. However, when he is unable to attract any stars, he coerces his family into doing the variety show and pretending that they are the myriad international stars. What results is the worst variety show ever assembled filled with slapstick mishaps and acts that are so bad they’re funny. Ruskin Group Theatre presents this madcap in a speedy 70 minutes that is ridiculous in the extreme and hysterical to boot.
The script, by Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman and John Neville-Andrews, is ingenious. The entire thing is in Spanish. However, by using basic vocabulary and words that translate easily – like fantastico – all that is needed is a rudimentary understanding of Spanish to be able to follow along and know what is going on. I was able to catch 90 percent of the dialogue relying on the two years of Spanish I took in high school, which was years ago.
This was also due in large part to director Alan Shearman’s decision to have all of the actors speak slightly slower than native Spanish speakers coupled with the cast’s fantastic comedic timing and telltale facial expressions and the language barrier all but disappears.
There are definitely moments where the actors are playing for the laugh instead of playing the scene, and the frenetic energy and momentum drops whenever Pepe Hernandez takes the stage in between acts for an extended time, but all in all, this cast is very impressive.
David Lago delivers a suave machismo as Miguel and also plays the piano and drums in the production. Nina Brissey as Maria is adorable in her reluctance to perform and Denise Silva as Consuela, the understudy performed the night of the review, brings a great flirtatious energy to the stage.
However, the standout performance belongs to Aaron Jackson as Juan. Jackson’s slapstick is reminiscent of the likes of Donald O’Connor from “Singin’ in the Rain.” His timing and dedication to the physical comedy of his parts is amazing and his solo piece as Toulouse-Lautrec is so funny it’ll bring tears to your eyes. This act followed by the wedding as the final piece had the audience rolling with laughter and brings the show to a close with a bang.
Ruskin Group’s “El Grande de Coca Cola” is fast and furious and a nice departure from the typical theatre you’re likely to see in Los Angeles.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News