Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
turns on the shock that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn experience on discovering that the stranger their daughter brings home as her fiancé is black. Sidney Poitier is handsome, dapper and accomplished — an ideal son-in-law, except for his unexpected race. The film was released in 1967, six months after Loving v. Virginia
overturned bans on interracial marriage.
Austin’s Teatro Vivo produced Aye, No!
in 2014, less than a year before Obergefell v. Hodges
made same-sex marriage legal, if not accepted, in this country. It has received staged readings elsewhere, including at The Bang Bang Bar in San Antonio in 2016. Its new full-scale production inaugurates Teatro Audaz as resident company at the Cellar Theatre. Directed by Laura Garza, it is a raucous, clangorous and preposterous tour-de-farce.
Like the old movie, the play begins with the jolt of an unanticipated pairing, though the surprise becomes sexual more than racial. When Alicia (Miranda Valdez) returns from college with an intimate friend, Kika — the abuelita who raised her — shrieks and faints on discovering that the newcomer is female. Not only is Kathy (Karlyn Buchaus) a lesbian, but she is blond, blue-eyed and incapable of pronouncing enchilada properly. “Why can’t she be with a nice Mexican?” asks one of Alicia’s two intrusive aunts. Except for the fact that her mother disappeared years ago, Kathy’s family fits a traditional ethnic stereotype — overweight, overbearing and overwrought over the fact that 20-year-old Alicia loves women. Kathy is stigmatized as “white.” Three drag queens with attitude arrange for a gay vato named Joe (Ivan Ortega) to stage a curandero ceremony that might somehow purge Alicia’s family of its homophobia.
The giddy proceedings are a triumph for Patrick Martinez’s costume design. Louie Canales, Christian Gomez and Ray Seams play the drag queens with appropriate flamboyance and extravagant attire. Floral dresses and uncomely wigs enable Jaime A. Gonzalez Quintero to inhabit the grandmother. Everything seems so over the top that the bottom keeps falling out.
The premise of cultural collision over a gay couple is promising, but the plot soon creaks. The play appears on the verge of concluding several times, and then does not. For her finale, West Texas playwright Liz Coronado Castillo comes up with an unlikely deus ex machina in which everyone converges in a rowdy, celebratory drag show.
Perhaps because cast and crew have many friends or Teatro Audaz’s Cellar debut inspired keen anticipation, the entire run of Aye, No!
was sold out while still in rehearsal; the theater’s website posts a waiting list. I welcome the company to the Cellar, which over the years has been home to memorable drama, with hope that future projects balance subtlety with audacity.
$20-$35, 7:30 pm Thu-Sat, 2pm Sun, Through Aug. 26, The Public Theater of San Antonio, Cellar Theatre, 800 W. Ashby Pl., (210) 733-7258, thepublicsa.org
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