Master of parody Mel Brooks once said parodies were “what comedy should be. A salute… to the original…and just move it over 2 inches here to the right or the left and you get all the comedy you need.” In “Destiny of Desire,” the Goodman Theatre has hit on this formula and then some as it lovingly, and joyously, pokes fun at the conventions of Spanish telenovelas.
The play opens on a stormy night in a hospital in a small town in Mexico as two women – one rich and one poor – are giving birth to baby girls. One of the girls is born with a major frailty and is switched with the other at birth. Eighteen years later, the girls meet, brought together by an accident.
The plot takes all sorts of ridiculous, over-the-top twists and turns reminiscent of the traditional tropes of the telenovela. I have never seen a telenovela and found each of the references relentlessly funny. Even if audiences are not familiar with telenovelas as regular viewers, they will either recognize these tropes from American soap operas or they will appreciate the over-the-top ridiculousness of the unrealistic, but hilarious plot twists.
If relied upon too much, these jests can lose their flavor. However, as playwright Karen Zacarias, says in her interview conducted by Arena Stage, “What I find interesting about telenovelas is the ambivalence you feel at first… you watch one scene and, before you know it, … you’re hooked.” This is exactly the case. You care about the characters onstage, even as you find their stories delightfully ridiculous.
But the show does not rely only on the poking of fun at telenovelas. It often takes breaks to comment on the action, as well as give social commentary in the style of the Greek chorus. There also are challenges to theatrical conventions, as an actor greets you before curtain.
The sets and technical aspects are impressive. The transitions are expertly choreographed. The acting also is tremendous. Go see this show. It’ll have you gleefully laughing in the aisles.
• A 2014 graduate of Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance, Matt Fraser of Crystal Lake possesses extensive experience in the theatre industry both academic and professional.
“DESTINY OF DESIRE”
WHEN: Through April 16
WHERE: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago