The Old Globe Brings Broadway and Entertainment Royalty to "Destiny of Desire"

A Karen Zacarías Musical that Highlights the Flare and the Contrasts of the Mexican Telenovela
A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

Mexican playwright Karen Zacarías's work will guarantee not only a good time but introspection as well. Her style combines different tones within one piece where comedic moments will be dressed with doses of reality. The latest production at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park is no exception as Destiny of Desire is a drama full of laughs parodying the Mexican telenovela, the highs, lows, twists, and turns contrasting with -in-your face- U.S statistics regarding gun violence, divorce, politics and an array of topics. That is one of the charms of Karen as the fiction will be smartly woven into the facts. 

The story begins during a stormy night with two women in labor, wealthy Fabiola Castillo (Bianca Marroquín) and poor Hortencia del Rio (Mandy Gonzalez). As they are greeted by the doctor on call Jorge Ramiro Mendoza (Julio Agustín) and Sister Sonia (Nancy Ticotin), because there cannot be a hospital and births in a Mexican novela without a nun -for reals-, Fabiola experiences complications and, her daughter's survival chances are low. When she says that Hortencia had a healthy baby girl, she demands a switch as her husband Armando Castillo (Al Rodrigo) longs for a daughter. Dr. Mendoza who's moral compass is not all there and assumes that because Hortencia and her husband Ernesto (in this performance played by Luis Villabon) are from a more modest tier, they will become pregnant again immediately after, he switches the baby girls and warns the Del Rio's that their daughter has a poor heart condition and she will not live long. Fabiola promises to look after the couple by employing Hortencia as her maid. Years go by and as the baby girls are now young women, Fabiola never felt that bond with Pilar Esperanza Castillo (Yesenia Ayala) who loves and writes poetry and wants to go to college. Fabiola is more concerned with making her husband happy and having her daughter go to the family's casino soiree where Pilar Esperanza is to meet Dr. Mendoza's son Diego (Tito Livas). But fate has other plans and as Pilar Esperanza is on a park bench she runs into Sebastián José (James Olivas), Armando's son from his first marriage, and there's an immediate connection. Continuing with the fate situation, Hortencia goes to jail in lieu of her daughter Victoria Maria (Emilia Suárez) as she shoots Dr. Castillo while he is making a pass at Hortencia and Victoria thinks it's a burglar. She goes to the Castillo home to work as a maid and meets her "sister" Pilar. They immediately bond and decide to switch places for the casino soiree since Pilar is already in love with Sebastián. Affairs are revealed, people come back from the dead, and there is a misinterpretation of possible incest but all in good fun for the drama. 

Christopher M. Ramirez, Bianca Marroquín, and Tito Livas. Photo by Jim Cox.

The fact that there is a mini In the Heights reunion in this play made my heart beat faster. Sadly in the opening night performance, Carlos Gomez who originated the role of Kevin Rosario in ITH, did not go on as Ernesto del Rio. Understudy Luis Villabon saved the evening with a wonderful and funny portrayal of Hortencia's husband. Bianca Marroquín as the star that she is, totally commanded the stage with fierce, bold dance moves, strong vocals, and master comedic ability. The thing too about this play is that the audience's reaction becomes a character in the production between the "ohs and ahs" as well as telling off the different villains which makes the theatre-going experience even better. 

The performance happens like a soap-opera filming before a live studio audience where you see stagehands moving around props and stage pieces. Rachel Hauck's two-story scenic design serves both as a novela plateau and musician station as there is a live band playing throughout on the second floor with music direction by Ricky Gonzalez blasting hot, Latin rhythms that accompany Lorna Ventura's mean choreography which the whole ensemble performs beautifully. Gonzalez is also responsible for the original music, arrangements, and Orchestrations.

As I mentioned, Bianca is a beast but the daughter and love interests counterparts bring the heat too. It is a great foursome that is not only easy on the eyes but has great rapport and engagement. Yesenia Ayala is marvelous and has feel-good chemistry with "sister" Emilia Suárez as well as with James Olivas who not only seizes those Latin rhythms but also a solo of the song "Fallaste Corazón" by Cuco Sánchez, accompanied by a Mariachi that brought chills to the house because it was well delivered with felt interpretation, great range, and a fantastic voice. it was good to see Christopher M. Ramirez back onstage as "La Gente" or the people/part of the ensemble, he is very funny and definitely stands out. I must say I would have wanted to see more of, and out of Mandy Gonzalez.  Even though she does great, I believe there is a bit of a disconnect between the role and the artist being her stage credentials in some of the biggest musicals like In the HeightsWicked, and Hamilton.

Yesenia Ayala and James Olivas. Photo by Jim Cox.

Just like the histrionic foursome, there is a great design triad between lighting (Jane Cox), sound (Robert Kaplowitz), and projection (Hana S. Kim) as the effects for each reveal and plot twist are crucial with the pertinent sound and something that is a -must- with telenovelas is the continuous flashbacks and teasers with music, wind (aka fans), and changing scenes. Kim's projections played along with the performance and were key to the story also inviting that nostalgia because novelas have played a huge role in Latin America for decades. Ruben Santiago-Hudson came and conquered the task as directing such a large cast with all the moving elements is definitely not easy and the end result was a high pace, enthralling piece of musical theatre, and truthfully, less could not be expected. 

The Old Globe is a good place to bring life and house Destiny of Desire as the care and aesthetic is always there. This musical is a guarantee of good times, laughs, and nostalgia while enjoying a cast with Broadway and entertainment royalty.

Currently playing until June 25th, for performance dates and times please click here

I had the joy of interviewing Bianca Marroquín and you can check it out HERE.

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