El Insólito Caso de Mis’ Piña Colada

By Carlos Ferrari; Directed by René Buch

BOTTOM LINE: Univision’s Sábado Gigante comes to the stage.

Unrepentant entertainment. That’s what I kept thinking while I sat, an infra-red headset hanging out of one ear, listening to the wacky and illogical doings at the heart of this Puerto Rican sitcom.

Here’s the set-up: Ofelia, a histrionic widower, lives on the diminishing fortunes of her gambling addict late husband with her three work-phobic children: Nathaniel, a salsa-star poser with a penchant for bad rhyme; Abigail, a pseudo-intellectual in love with her own vocabulary; and Loreley, a simple girl with a weakness for telenovelas. Obsessed with her family's falling status in town, and locked in gossipy combat with her neighbor Esperancita, Ofelia concocts a plan to make Loreley win the Miss Piña Colada beauty pageant, thus restoring the family’s honor and fortunes. As her machinations to win become more outlandish, her spending becomes more profligate, and she sends her children and couch potato brother-in-law Domingo out to make money anyway they can.

Predictably, everything goes wrong; Nathaniel is arrested for petty thievery, Abigail gets locked up for street walking, a cheated pawn shop owner beats Domingo, and the contest judge that Loreley has fallen in love with turns out be the local delivery guy. When Loreley is jilted by her pizza paramour, she theatrically breaks down and skips out on the pageant. Ruined and shamed, Ofelia gathers her family around her, embraces them in love, and then hatches a new plan to win the Miss Wheelchair pageant (Loreley appears in a wheelchair, catatonic from her heartbreak).

Wacky, right? Cliched, yes? Painful in parts, if you think about it.

But here’s the good part: it never even thinks about feeling bad for any of that. Led by the cannon-ball energy of Wanda Arraiga’s Ofelia and Gredivel Vásquez’s weeping, piccolo voiced Loreley, the show is an all-out barrage of bad puns, exaggerated characters, and broad, unapologetic stereotypes. And that no-holds barred, funny-or-die mentality actually makes it quite Shakespearian.

That’s right. I saId, Shakespearian.

Repertorio Español is a true rep company, playing as many as fifteen different shows each month (you read that right), seven days a week, often two shows a day. Latino kids from all over the region come flocking in their Catholic school uniforms, and they get a real neighborhood playhouse experience. To accomplish this, Repertorio has a fairly large company of actors who rotate through the repertory in the equivalent of Shakespearian “lines of business;” this guy plays the comic uncle, this woman plays the wise grandmother, this girl is the sexy ingénue, regardless of what play is on that day.

The upside of this is a supple, tight ensemble that feels each other’s rhythms and moods like a jazz band. The downside is what you get on sitcoms - stock characters and emotions, broad and audience-indulging comic bits that have only little relationship to the play, and a rough approach to the finer points of meaning and theme. It’s Shakespearian in that sense - at all costs, please your audience, else you won’t be back to play tomorrow night.

Personally, I enjoy that energy. It’s true stage work - the kind of art that simply cannot be produced in any other medium. It works perfectly at the Gramercy Theatre, Repertorio’s long-time and recently renovated home, a true jewel-box of New York theatre, with a proscenium arch straight from the late 19th century, and an intimate, 100 seat house. Combined with Robert Federico’s economical designs, Alfonso Rey’s lively soundtrack, and Rene Buch’s very pretty staging, it makes for a belly-laugh-filled 90 minutes.

Ultimately, The Preposterous Case of Miss Pina Colada is a throw-away, but a throw-away in the sense that was every episode of Will and Grace or Sex and the City. You still wanted to show up next week and see what would happen next. I heartily recommend getting down to Repertorio Español to see what’s on this week.

(Repertorio’s productions of any of the great Spanish-language plays: all of the Lorcas, Gabriel Garciá Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte Annunciada, or their Spanish world premier of Nilo Cruz’s Ana en el Trópico are not to be missed.)

(El insólito caso de Mis’ Piña Colada plays at Repertorio Español’s Gramercy Theatre, 138 East 27th Street, between Lexington and Third, in rotating rep. For current performance schedules and to buy tickets, visit or call 212.225.9999. Tickets are $15-25. Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.)