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[whitespace] Nightclub Notions: Wannabe singer Guille (Robert Cuccioli) shares the stage with one of his flames, Meredith (Erica Schroeder).

Photograph by Tom Chapin

American Dreamers

'Sons of Don Juan' seek a better life

By Heather Zimmerman

RIGHT ALONGSIDE McDonald's, one of our most famed exports is that vague promise of all possibilities known as the American Dream. But what defines building "a better life" is as varied as the people who pursue it. San José Repertory Theatre stages an artful production of John PiRoman's Sons of Don Juan, a light comedy that at once subtly skewers and affectionately honors the American Dream.

Guillermo Galiano (Robert Cuccioli), Guille for short, is a Cuban immigrant living in New Jersey who owns a hair salon and moonlights as a singer at El Paso Doble, a nightclub that he dreams of buying. Guille's other hobby is women: he juggles numerous affairs, most notably with Meredith (Erica Schroeder), a needy divorcée, and with charismatic TV reporter Lila Luz (Mari-Esther Magaloni). Closest to Guille's heart, however, is Blanca (Christine Avila), his unhappily married singing partner. Partly in an effort to woo Blanca from her husband, Guille finally decides to buy El Paso Doble, but he becomes caught in a minor underworld scam.

Accents often faltered--were there some Irish Cubans in the cast?--but the performances are largely enjoyable. Cuccioli makes Guille suave but believably beleaguered as he tries to do the Right Thing. Colman Domingo is an excellent foil for him as Guille's friend Fernandito, both excitable and unshakably optimistic, and Gendell Hernandez has some scene-stealing moments as Iggy, a thuggish but mostly well-meaning handyman. Magaloni's too heavily accented chatter obscures more than a few punch lines, but nevertheless, her Lila exudes a hilarious high-maintenance persona. There's understated humor in Schroeder's insecure Meredith, who is clingy, but not pathetic.

Making the most of PiRoman's broad and bawdy comedy, director Amy Gonzalez adeptly keeps the performances at a screwball pitch. A double-sided set-piece, which swivels to reveal the nightclub stage on one side and the dressing room on the other, helps propel the screwball sensibility as the characters dash between the two spaces, frequently barging in on dressing-room trysts. But more importantly, this dual set provides a telling backdrop for each character's aspirations: the stage area is where we see how the characters would like things to be; the dressing room is where we see how they actually are.

Likewise, the characters struggle with how the American notion of success often relies on appearance and performance. Lila's desire to help the "Latin American American community" (as she calls it) is tempered by her carefulness to assimilate. Guille compromises his very strict principles when he does something illegal, so desperate is he to get the money to buy El Paso Doble. Fernandito has perhaps the most important line of the play when he explains to Guille, "When I came to America, I never expected to have a million dollars, but I expected to be free." In effect, PiRoman shows how oppressive that fabled pursuit of happiness can be, though his play is at the same time wholly sympathetic to his characters' aspirations. He has crafted an only-in-America tribute that's honest enough to poke fun at the pitfalls of the American Dream while still celebrating its myriad possibilities.

Sons of Don Juan plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm, and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Feb. 27 at the San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $17-$35. (408.367.7255)

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From the February 10-16, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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