Bland Virgin Margaritas

Show #33 Sunsets and Margaritas, TheatreWorks March 14.

Dena Martinez, Roxane Carrasco, Tommy
 Gomez and Daniel Valdez. Photo by Tracy Martin

“Well, that was a completely wasted Sunday afternoon,” I told a colleague last week.

“Oh man, I’m sorry,” said the colleague in question, who had seen the same show at its Saturday opening. “I should have called to warn you.”

Now, there isn’t really precedent for that kind of call, and lord knows I’ve seen shows more worthy of an intervention than Sunsets and Margaritas, but I appreciated the thought. As an East Bay guy, I try to be strategic about my trips to the South Bay and Peninsula, and lately TheatreWorks has amply rewarded the drive.  This season’s Yellow Face and The Chosen were knockouts, and the musicals Tinyard Hill and Daddy Long Legs were pretty entertaining.  So maybe the company was due for a dud.

José Cruz González’s comedy Sunsets and Margaritas, which premiered at Denver Theatre Center last April, feels like a two-hour-long sitcom pilot, and not a promising one. It’s overloaded with expository dialogue and packed with corny gags, the vast majority of which fall flat in the slackly-paced West Coast premiere directed by Amy Gonzalez (no relation).

Serrano family patriarch Candelario is quickly going senile, loudly enough that the cops have to get involved, and his unappreciated son Gregorio is having panic attacks about how to tell dad he’s going to have to put him in a home, and sell the family restaurant to pay for it (even though “Charo ate here”). The panic attacks are so extreme, in fact, that he keeps passing out and having visions, like of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a standup comic. There are a lot more characters involved but that’s pretty much it in terms of plot.

Frank Sarmiento’s set, at least, is terrific, really capturing the familiar feel of a tacqueria with orange and green walls, a large Aztec-themed mural and, for most of the play, Candelario’s antique Cadillac crashed through the wall.

There’s not much to the characters, half of whom kind of fade into the background. Tommy A. Gomez is a sad-sack Gregorio, like a Chicano version of Al from Happy Days. His Cuban wife Luz (Roxane Carrasco) seems like a standard sitcom spouse, sometimes nagging or volatile but generally vague as a character. Erika Yanin Pérez-Hernández seems very nice as just-arrived new waitress Bianca, who preaches about immigration reform and being kind to the old coot, as does Nestor Campos Jr. as friendly Sheriff Montoya, Gabby’s old classmate and sperm donor.

On the broader side of the family, much of the humor of Daniel Valdez (brother of El Teatro Campesino founder Luis Valdez) as Candelario comes from him running around frantically in his underwear with a gun, and there’s only so much you can do with that. Miles Gaston Villanueva grins like a hyena as Gregorio’s son JoJo, a boisterous huckster in hip-hop attire and tricked-out wheelchair. Dena Martinez manages to rise above the humdrum material to be awfully amusing as lesbian daughter Gabby, high-strung to the point of hair-trigger tantrums after the birth of her new baby, whom she keeps calling “Ashley, Amber or Courtney.” Lucinda Serrano (presumably no relation to the fictional Serrano family) sends things right over the top as the Vegas lounge-act Virgin Mary and a similarly imaginary but more annoying bandolier-draped Mexican revolutionary, adding something to the show on a visual level (costumer Sara Ryung Clement gives her some colorful getups) but no more than a gimmick to the show as a whole.

The rest is pretty much negligible family drama and limp ethnic jokes–”Mr. Smartypantalones,” “the two of you are like oil and water, flan and menudo,” and the observation that Benihana’s has so many Latinos working there that it should be called Mexicana’s.  Rimshot please–or failing that, maybe a sad trombone.

Sunsets and Margaritas plays through April 4 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto. http://www.theatreworks.org

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