What Lola Wants, Lola Gets

Lola Goes to Roma

At SBCC’s Jurkowitz Theatre, Friday, April 28. Shows through May 13.

Reviewed by Carlos Morton

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and Josefina López of Real Women Have Curves fame both like to paint intimate self-portraits. “I paint what I know best,” said Kahlo. Both are strong, independent Latinas who are (or are becoming) icons. In Lola Goes to Roma, Roma (delightfully played by Dekyi Rongé) is a stand-in for the 37-year-old author while the mother is based on actress Lupe Ontiveros, a more mature woman whose sexuality López greatly admires — “the kind of woman I wanted my mother to be,” she has said.

When I first heard about the latest Josefina López play, I thought it would be about a Mexican mother who wanted to go to Rome to meet the Pope and tour the Vatican. A traditional Catholic Mamacita Lola is not. Roma is an intelligent and rather mousy daughter, a recently minted PhD whose siblings pressure her into taking Lola to Europe, ostensibly to distract her from the death of her late husband. Lola is portrayed with consummate finesse by Marina Gonzalez Palmier, and as the plot unfolds we discover that she has a number of deep, dark, and rich secrets.

The daughter is repressed, incapable of having a good time, while her mother has to teach her a thing or two about joie de vivre. Theodore Michael Dolas’s post card-like set, with beds that pop out like phallic symbols, took us on a lusty romp through various European cities. The excellent multicultural ensemble, consisting mostly of Santa Barbara City College students (standouts are Ben Chang, Benny B. Roa, and Priscilla Oliveria), played multiple roles and led us on one hilarious adventure after another.

Originally a screenplay, Lola doesn’t suffer in the least in this theatrical reincarnation, even with a 29-page script and some 32 scene changes. Director Katie Laris moves things along deftly, in a rambunctious, engaging style. What does bog down the play is the telenovela-like flashback to young Lola’s affair with an Italian lover. Perhaps the play should be called Lola Returns to Roma? Also, the numerous dance numbers come across as extraneous — after all, this is not a musical.

The opening night crowd at the Jurkowitz Theatre seemed to genuinely enjoy the spectacle, laughing and applauding throughout. I can’t wait for the movie!

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