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OSF's 'Destiny of Desire' is a telenovela at lightning speed

“Destiny of Desire” is intended to be a comedic parody of the telenovela form, to deliberately showcase stereotypes of Latino culture, to intentionally explode myths with facts and laughter. It is also intended, without reservation, to entertain.

This 2018 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production, written by Karen Zacarías and directed by José Luis Valenzuela, absolutely wins on all counts.

“Destiny of Desire” starts with actors who casually walk out onto the stage, talk with each other, call out and wave to the audience. Performers stretch their limbs and limber their voices as the audience finds seating. Already it’s clear the crowd is rowdy and expects to be fully involved in the show. The premise of “Destiny of Desire,” that of babies switched at birth, is a delightful theatrical ploy to carry the tale of women who take control of their own destinies and win their dearest desires.

The narrative arc of the telenovela typically runs through 180 episodes over the course of two years. Featuring every trope, every emotion and almost every plot device known to man, you’ll find birth, death, love, hate, jealousy, divorce, infidelity, incest, greed, redemption, murder and more. In “Destiny of Desire,” these all occur at lightning speed over the course of just two hours and underscore the often bizarre unreality of the telenovela.

Emphasizing the wild pace of the show, the precarious nature of life and love, and to save time, props are wheeled about and are part of the performance. Men pirouette across the stage spinning chairs with abandon, a chandelier is raised to dangle precariously on a thread and sheets serve as sand, wind, curtains and clothing.

Ella Saldana North and Esperanza America play Victoria Maria del Rio and Pilar Esperanza Castillo, the babies switched at birth who meet again as young women. North and America, along with the men who love them, Eduardo Enrikez as Sebastian Jose Castillo and Fidel Gomez as Dr. Diego Mendoza, are all the more effective having played these roles in earlier productions.

Continuous comical plot twists are punctuated with story cards, double takes, rim shots, spontaneous mariachi, tangos and heartbreaking song. All the while, Juan Manuel Rivera Colón tickles the ivories in suspense, tremolo and triumph, a nod to old-fashioned silent movies and radio shows. These are techniques developed by Bertold Brecht that Zacarías uses to interrupt the narrative, emphasizing a comedic moment or to draw attention to facts associated with specific scenes in the play.

Two leads are performed by OSF company actors, Vilma Silva as the fabulous, exotic, calculating, wicked and wealthy wife, Fabiola Castillo, and Armando Durán in the controlled, comic role of prosperous casino owner Armando Castillo. Clothed in silks, sequins, feathers and finery, Silva and Duran are over-the-top hilarious in these exaggerated roles.

Silva particularly, in her Christian Louboutin pumps and big hair, has the double take down, arresting her movement or cringing in extravagant fear as she stares with crazed eyes directly at the audience. In three of Vilma’s scenes, the double take is taken so far as to be a rewind, the action stepping back under a pulsing strobe to emphasize a reveal.

Also of note in the performance is Catherine Castellanos, who plays Sister Sonia, the nurse-nun who is compelled by the evil Dr. Jorge Ramiro Mendoza, played by Al Espinosa, to switch the babies and hold her tongue. Castellanos as Sister Sonia is vengeance transformed, the stock character who represents justice in the Christian way, but with a turn that will blow your mind.

Now to Brecht and Zacarías’ more serious intent: exploding those myths and assumptions.

When Zacarías uses one of those Brechtian techniques to pause the action, she breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience and insert facts about culture and our world that counter the stereotypes played out on the stage. These are considered and deliberate, sometimes painful even when punctuated with a joke and a riff.

The synthesis of the two theatrical forms — the telenovela and Brecht’s epic theater — makes this 2018 production of “Destiny of Desire” a wholly unexpected, thoroughly instructive and hysterically entertaining production.

“Destiny of Desire” plays in the Angus Bowmer Theatre through July 12, with a sign-interpreted performance July 8. The play has adult themes used in contemporary reality shows, sitcoms and popular telenovelas that are typically presented as family entertainment. The run time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. For more information or tickets, call the box office at 800-219-8161 or see www.osfashland.org.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer who lives in Ashland. She can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

In a coma, Dr. Mendoza (Al Espinosa), left, is used in Fabiola Castillo's (Vilma Silva) scheme to keep good-natured Ernesto Del Rio (Eddie Lopez) caught in her web in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 'Destiny of Desire.' [OSF / Jenny Graham]