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Thursday, June 20, 2024 — Houston, TX

‘Laughs in Spanish’ is true to its name

Courtesy Melissa Taylor Photography

By Hugo Gerbich-Pais     3/19/24 10:42pm

Review: ★★★★

In “Laughs in Spanish,” Latinidad, queerness and motherhood all intersect at Art Basel. The result is a witty and incredibly funny play that will leave you jajajaing throughout. 

The play takes place in a Miami Art Gallery during Art Basel, a large annual art show. “Laughs in Spanish” centers on the lives of Carolina, an MFA painting student-intern, and her boss Marianna, who owns and manages the swanky Studio 6 art gallery. 

“Laughs in Spanish” is running until March 17 at Stages, a nonprofit theater venue in Houston. 

It was written by Alexis Scheer, a notable playwright who co-wrote Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Bad Cinderella,” and directed by Rebecca Rivas.

The play opens in chaos — Studio Six has been robbed, and there are no paintings to display at the exhibition opening that evening. Thankfully, Carolina’s boyfriend Juan is a police officer and takes charge of the crime scene. Mariana’s mother Estella, a famous actress and screenwriter, and her assistant Jenny also serendipitously happen to be in Miami, and together, they help Mariana. The stolen paintings fade to the back of the audience’s attention, and we become entertained by a rekindled romance, a pregnancy announcement and a familial reconciliation. 

“Laughs in Spanish” uses a minimalist and sparsely decorated set, yet still manages to be visually appealing. Hot pink walls and art-deco detailing grounded the play in Miami and gave the actors plenty of space to move across stage naturally. The costume choices also reminded the audience we were in Miami without being stereotypical or tacky. And, I’m still thinking of Mariana’s incredible bob.

One of the best aspects of “Laughs in Spanish,” though, was the use of Spanglish. Spanglish was celebrated within the play and incorporated naturally. They didn’t use it as the butt of any joke; instead, Spanglish helped to energize the script and create intimate moments between the actors and the audience. Latinx culture was celebrated throughout, and this was perhaps epitomized by the stories told by Estella, who delivered a rousing monologue exploring her relationship with her mother and her daughter and her experience emigrating from Colombia.

The script also did not shy away from confronting social issues and managed to do so in a sincere and genuine manner. This was the result of naturally incorporating these issues into the script, whether they concerned policing or health insurance. The play engaged robustly with questions about the contemporary art world and the accessibility of art — though I do feel that at times these critiques came across as ironic, given the fact that this play itself is guilty of being inaccessible as a result of the high ticket costs, ranging from $50-84.

One of the play’s only downfalls was the relationship between Mariana and Jenny. It felt like Mariana wasn’t given the opportunity to develop her queerness, making the relationship seem a little out of left field:. Across two scenes we went from Mariana denying to her mother that she was interested in anyone but men, to her making out with a woman. 

While an explanation isn’'t necessary, Mariana isn’t able to express her identity in a way that doesn’t feel tacked-on. Instead, explorations of queerness in the play were limited to protracted kissing sequences. The result was that the relationship felt unbelievable, and there was not the same romantic connection that we witnessed between Juan and Carolina. 

This was compounded by the little time that Mariana and Jenny spent actually talking to each other — as I mentioned before, they just kept making out. It felt almost voyeuristic, as if the kissing scenes were just included for shock value, rather than to actually develop their characters. Unfortunately, this aspect of the play left me very disappointed.

“Laughs in Spanish” is fittingly named — the audience was constantly cackling. Despite Mariana and Jenny’s disappointing relationship, the play’'s comedy was excellent. The actors gave dynamic performances, and their stage presence matched their scripted roles perfectly.  It's an amusing and thought-provoking work that gently challenges and educates the audience —– yet we don’'t even notice. 

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