"Puerto Rico ... fua!" at GALA Hispanic Theatre is a lively romp through the history of the island, beginning with its own version of the Adam and Eve story and ending in the present.
Although the tone of Carlos Ferrari's musical is tongue-in-cheek and can be appreciated for its slick surface appeal, "Puerto Rico ... fua!" contains a serious central core. As director Luis Caballero puts it, the play is "a page in history that reminds us that change is needed."
"Puerto Rico" is constructed as populist entertainment, a kind of traveling players show performed on Luciana Stecconi's proscenium-within-a-proscenium set.
|'Puerto Rico ... fua!'|
|» Where: GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW|
|» When: Through July 1|
|» Info: $20 to $40; 202-234-7174; galatheatre.org|
There are 32 scenes in "Puerto Rico," each one designed around a different kind of music. Five superb musicians, led by Didier Prossaid, sit to one side of the stage and provide that music, which includes everything from salsa to tango.
A cast of eight actors tell the story of Puerto Rico, from its first settlement by Taino Indians, through the period of control by the Catholic Church, the Spanish and ultimately the United States. In each period, Ferrari shows the struggle of the Puerto Rican natives to keep their dignity and not become colonized politically, economically or intellectually.
With deft connections, optimized by Caballero's and Hugh Medrano's direction, Ferrari suggests how each master was just as bad as the one who came before. When the Spanish conquistadors torture an Indian in their obsession with gold, a monk steps in to save the Indian, but promptly gives up on him, turning his attention to an African slave.
The eight actors are fabulous singers and dancers: Ricardo Puente, Joel Perez, Antonio Vargas, Rita Ortiz, Jeffrey Hernandez, Anamer Castrello, Jose Manuel Ozuna-Baez and Isabel Arraiza. They appear in different configurations, sometimes alone, sometimes with each other.
One of the most moving numbers is "Jibaros," a Puerto Rican folk song dedicated to the "Jibaro," or original mountain people who are considered the authentic backbone of the Puerto Rican culture. Castrello, Vargas and Arraiza wear delightfully fanciful horse costumes while singing this slow hymn to their beloved land.
There is a great deal of humor in "Puerto Rico ... fua!," even when it arrives shielded as satire, as in the number "Nuyorican," sung by Perez, who offers praise to his Puerto Rican roots and his New York home.
That humor is an essential element of the Puerto Rican spirit, according to Ferrari. It has allowed the island to survive greed, colonialism, corruption and broken promises. His joyful final chorus of "Puerto Rico ... fua!" suggests that the people he celebrates will survive and flourish.