'History of Coca-Cola' Hits the Comic Spot
By Celia Wren, The Washington Post, April 9, 2009
You'd feel cheated if a play about a carbonated beverage lacked fizz. Good thing, then, that "The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico," the latest offering from GALA Hispanic Theatre, teems with comic ebullience.
Director José Carrasquillo and two role-juggling actors pack antic energy into this ingenious English-language romp by dramatists Aldo Velasco and Patrick Scott. (The production is performed with Spanish surtitles.) But the show is more than theatrical froth: Commenting archly on globalization and big business -- and even more archly on the fear of globalization and big business -- "True History" goes down like a tonic at a time of international financial mayhem.
The play focuses on two intellectual but clueless heroes: Pat (Daniel Eichner) and Aldo (Jaime Robert Carrillo), overeducated 20-somethings who travel to Mexico to film a documentary about American economic imperialism. Since Pat, a former thespian, is still recovering from an ill-fated performance piece titled "Coke Adds Life?" -- "with a question mark!" he emphasizes -- he and Aldo place the iconic soft drink company at the hub of their exposé. "The new conquistadors don't come in Spanish galleons -- but in the grocery market shelves . . . in the airwaves beamed directly from Madison Avenue," the duo solemnly intone to their documentary camera.
Along the way, Pat and Aldo pursue their mission, pestering a weary impoverished farmer, a traditional healer, a delivery boy for a Cancún Domino's Pizza franchise, an 8-year-old vendor of Mayan artifacts and other unfortunates. As the tale gallivants toward its surprise-twist ending, it manages to poke fun at consumerism, telenovelas, pretentious grad-school lingo, avant-garde theatre, boorish tourists, cliched documentary tropes, liberal guilt and, of course, the Coca-Cola Co.
The exuberant Eichner and Carrillo play all the roles, popping offstage periodically for speedy costume changes. In one particularly hilarious sequence -- ostensibly a section of Pat and Aldo's documentary -- they conduct a lickety-split charadelike reenactment of Mexican history, complete with warfare and assassinations. (Playwright Velasco was born in Guadalajara, Mexico.)
Director Carrasquillo keeps the pace invigoratingly brisk, and his canny designers have fit medium to message, giving the production the busy, colorful, almost over-produced aesthetic of a postmodern documentary or reality TV show.
The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico, by Aldo Velasco and Patrick Scott. Directed by José Carrasquillo; lighting design, Cory Ryan Frank; properties design, Maria Schneggenburger. In English with Spanish surtitles. About two hours. Through April 26 at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. Call 800-494-8497 or 202-234-7174 or visit http://www.galatheatre.org.