As an artist, Herbert Siguenza is prolific. For the San Diego Repertory Theatre alone, where he is Playwright-in-Residence, he’s written three mainstage productions, presented a couple of others as special events, and has four more in various stages of development. Often, Mr. Siguenza’’s original works are Latinx takes on classic plays. His current Rep world premiere, Bad Hombres/Good Wives, starts with Moliere, stirs in Shakespeare and a taste of Oscar Wilde, and produces a farcial take on, of all things, the Sinaloan narco culture.
The School for Wives provides the basic text. Don Ernesto (John Padilla), a narco kingpin, has sent his trusted servant, Armida (Mr. Siguenza) to fetch his ward, Eva (Yvette Angulo), who has been raised in a convent. Don Ernesto plans to make her his bride, but he hasn’t counted on the nuns teaching her feminist theory and intersectionality (whose jargon she spouts with the commitment of an activist). As it happens, Don Ernesto’s rival has died, and his wife, a popular singer named Lucha Grande (Roxane Carrasco) and son, Mario (Jose Balistrieri), a university graduate who loves literature, Shakespeare in particular, have returned home for the funeral. Mario, of course, falls for Eva at first sight, and she for him.
Oh, and Lucha’s band includes a pair of gay caballeros (Daniel Ramos III and Salomón Maya) as dancers and a sexy sousaphone player (Adrian Kulcho Rodriguez). Key to the tangling and untangling of the plot is the ever-accommodating Padre Alberto (Culture Clash co-founder Ricardo Salinas).
While The School For Wives provides the basic structure, there are liberal quotes from Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. A complete volume of Shakespeare’s works also figures as a plot device. The Wilde homage comes when an imaginary character goes by the name of Bunbury. But, references to Mexican culture also abound, including machismo, banda music (featuring the marvelous Mr. Rodriguez), Corridos, telenovelas, and Spanglish.
Director Sam Woodhouse keeps the first act action at a quick clip, particularly as there is a lot of story to set up — 55 minutes go by before intermission. Act 2 features farce, which, by definition, must be fast-paced. There’s a lot to sort out, but it’s no spoiler to assure that loose ends get tied up and all ends happily (and musically – courtesy of composer Bostich).
The acting is first-rate. Mr. Siguenza and Mr. Salinas have worked together for so long that they easily find the laughs. Ms. Angulo switches on a dime between naïve and worldly. Ms. Carrasco both has the voice of a pop diva and a vocabulary similar to Eva’s – between the two of them, they elicit cheers, particularly from the women in the audience. Mr. Balistrieri combines looks with smarts to make himself into a fine hero. Mr. Ramos and Mr. Maya have fun playing everything from thugs to lovers. Mr. Padilla gets saddled as the heavy, but he never gets heavy-handed about it.
Sean Fanning’s scenic design provides a shell that can transform into a variety of settings, especially when filled out by Samantha Rojales’ projections. Carmen Amon’s costume design goes from traditional to over-the-top. Chris Rynne and Matt Lescault-Wood do their usual excellent work with lighting and sound design, respectively.
Bad Hombres/Good Wives may not be the cleverest of titles, but audiences are assured to laugh a lot and maybe even learn a little.