Live “telenovela” of overly dramatic scenes and plot twists make for a fun evening

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If ‘Destiny of Desire’ sounds like the title of a soap opera you would be very close to right.

Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in 'Destiny of Desire' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in ‘Destiny of Desire’ at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

On stage at Goodman Theatre now through April 16, the “soap” that audiences sit in on as it is supposedly being televised in an empty Chicago theater (note the lighting props), is a Latino “telenovela.”

It has all the overemphasized drama of the Latino mini TV series that has even made the format the show of choice in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Written by Washington D.C. playwright Karen Zacarias, ‘Destiny of Desire’ contains the typical telenovela characters of doctors, wealthy head-of-family, gold-digger siren, poor family, nuns, young lovers, stormy nights and terrific plot twists that would keep audiences tuning in for the full series.

Unlike American soaps, the telenovelas are finite so the story typically ends within a year.

But Zacarias’ stage telenovela presents the full story from a fascinating hospital birthing scene of switched babies, through their two families’ tribulations and amours to the everything-turns-out-all-right finale, within a two and a half hour show.

Cast of 'Destiny of Desire' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Cast of ‘Destiny of Desire’ at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

It is a glimpse of the loves and value systems of a wealthy family and poor family who live in the fictitious, desert Mexican town of Bellarica.

Presented by an excellent cast of Latino actors and beautifully directed by José Luis Valenzuela, ‘Destiny of Desire’ could easily convert the show’s audience to telenovela  aficionados.

As with those series on TV, Zacarias’ play is filled with socio-cultural references that garner applause from an audience that believes in free and low-cost health clinics for the poor, government-subsidized planned parenthood programs and women empowerment.

But aside from those people who before the show were unfamiliar with telenovelas learning more about them,  a reason to see ‘Destiny of Desire’ is that the show is great fun.

Boards introducing the scenes with such words as “Lies” and “Secrets,” might remind fans of old Chaplin and ‘Perils of Pauline’ movies.

Characters with attitude run, flit and dance across the stage changing the props aided by flowing see-through material.  The very simple, flexible set is designed by Francois-Pierre Couture.

Latin music played by a pianist at the back of the stage adds zesty flavors. Rosino Serrano composed and directed the music.

The only parts of the show I thought were unnecessary were the information asides that dropped U.S. social-cultural statistics.  The play is good enough to stand on its own merits and telenovela-style plot twists.

Originally commissioned and produced by Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, the Goodman show is a co-production with South Coast repertory in Costa Mesa, CA.

Details: ‘Destiny of Desire’ by Karen Zacarias is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Darborn St., Chicago, IL now through April 16. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3821 and visit Goodman.

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