Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Destiny of Desire
Arena Stage

Also see Susan's review of Ironbound

Esperanza America, Elia Saldaña, and Fidel Gomez
Playwright Karen Zacarías returns to Washington's Arena Stage with Destiny of Desire, a delirious comedy (with well-buried serious undertones) with origins in the Latin American telenovela format. Director José Luis Valenzuela and an all-Latino cast go to glorious extremes in telling their stories of love, lust, and social inequality in the Mexican desert town of Bellarica.

Theatricality and visible artifice are at the center of the production: audiences entering the Kreeger Theater see the actors warming up and getting into costume, and some of the actors roam the auditorium introducing themselves to audience members. The scenic design by François-Pierre Couture allows for seamless shifts between locales, using a few set pieces and billowing scrims.

Omniscient Sister Sonia (Marian Licha) sets up the story: on a dark and stormy night (Pablo Santiago's lighting design includes jolts of green lightning), Hortensia del Rio (Rayanne Gonzales) and Fabiola Castillo (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey) both go into labor. Hortensia, a poor farm wife, delivers a robust baby girl; Fabiola, married to the town's richest man (Cástulo Guerra), bears a sickly girl with a weak heart. Fabiola decides that she will take the healthy child as her own but will make amends by hiring the unknowing Hortensia as the child's nanny.

About 20 years pass. Pilar (Esperanza America), the girl Fabiola raised in luxury, writes poems and wants to go to college instead of agreeing to marry the man her mother has chosen for her. The other child, Victoria (Elia Saldaña), has undergone multiple heart surgeries and dreams of becoming a doctor, which Hortensia and her husband Ernesto (Carlos Gómez) approve but can't afford. Then the complications begin, including songs and dances accompanied onstage by pianist Rosino Serrano as well as a well-placed Donald Trump joke.

The plot incorporates numerous buried secrets, love at first sight, unrequited love, acts of violence, a deadly storm in the desert, and a plot twist lifted from Shakespeare. But that's not all: the playwright drops in facts that relate to each scene, ranging from innocuous (the percentage of chance meetings that result in long-term relationships) to the serious (the number of people who die in the Mexican desert as they attempt to reach the U.S.).

Saldaña and America give well-grounded performances, but drama queen Fernandez-Coffey and stoic Gonzales grab the attention whenever they appear. The entire cast gets into the spirit of the production, including Nicholas Rodriguez as a mysterious heartthrob and Oscar Ceville and Fidel Gomez as father and son doctors.

Arena Stage
Destiny of Desire
September 11th —October 18th
By Karen Zacarías
Sister Sonia: Marian Licha
Ernesto del Rio/Dance Captain: Carlos Gómez
Hortensio del Rio: Rayanne Gonzales
Fabiola Castillo: Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey
Dr. Jorge Ramiro Mendoza/Casino Dealer/Cop: Oscar Ceville
Victoria del Rio/Nurse 1: Elia Saldaña
Pilar Castillo/Nurse 2: Esperanza America
Armando Castillo: Cástulo Guerra
Sebastian Jose Castillo/Paramedic 1/Cop 1: Nicholas Rodriguez
Dr. Diego Mendoza/Paramedic 2/Cop 2: Fidel Gomez
Augustin Lara Jr.: Rosino Serrano
Director: José Luis Valenzuela
Original Music/Music Coordinator: Rosino Serrano
Choreography by Robert Barry Fleming
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

Photo: C. Stanley Photography

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