ORLANDO — We’ve all known someone who, shall we say, enjoys telling tall tales, but it’s unlikely many of us have come across the likes of Juan Garcia. He can be charming, witty, and debonair — sounds good, doesn’t it? But when he wants something badly and a complication arises, Juan has his back to the wall and finds him spinning some real doozies. Armed with his boyish charm, his devoted father Don Beltran accepts every illogical story, which eventually creates some real complications.
One of the great pleasures of watching Playfest at Orlando Shakes — readings of new plays currently in development — is to see some of Central Florida’s finest actors deliver a hearty and energetic performance in what is technically a reading, but …. this time, there’s no question it was far superior to anyone’s concept of a traditional reading.
Exhibit No. 1 is the belly laugh extravaganza that premiered on Sunday, The Amazing, Fabulous, and Spectacular Untruths of Juan Garcia, a new comedy by playwright Kathleen Culebro. Under the expert direction of local theater veteran Paul Castaneda and with a carefully chosen cast, it’s not hard to imagine just how successful this play is likely to be in the future.
What is the Juan Garcia Play About?
Don Beltran is a proud man, but he’s fallen on hard times. His majestic home was once filled with multiple servants, but now he has a lone employee, Consuelo, who likes to remind everyone that her many hats include maid, cook, driver, etc. As a result, she comes across as a bit of fatigued, and sometimes grumpy, an attitude made worse when the Don’s pampered and spoiled son, Juan Garcia, returns home from university, expecting to again get treated like royalty.
Consuelo is well aware that Juan has a history of making up lies to cover his tracks, and she sighs and rolls her eyes when his father insists it’s time to break the boy of this habit. She knows better.
What follows is something similar to a classical French farce, as Juan falls in love — only it’s with the same fair lady that his rival Fernando has been wooing. Fernando proposes a duel, prompting Juan to ask Consuelo if there are any how to books in their library on duels.
Meanwhile, Juan’s father wants to avoid admitting that the family is in truly dire straits financially.
Pretty soon Juan is lying to everyone he can, insisting, among other things, that he’s married a nice Lithuanian woman — or did he say Romanian? Never mind, that’s not important. The real pleasure here is watching the actors take the script and run with it.
The virtually non-stop laughter is driven not just by Culebro’s clever writing and witty dialogue, but also by some enormously gifted actors taking their performance well beyond the concepts of a traditional reading. Adonis Perez-Escobar couldn’t possibly have been better as Juan Garcia, capturing his mischievous mix of playing innocent while running as frantically as possible from the truth. He’s totally charming — and you want to strangle him. The harder he works at sounding convincing when he’s shoveling big lies, the funnier he gets.
The same could be said for Aline Alcantara as the ornery, much put upon Consuelo — Alcantara seems to have an unlimited supply of ingeniously funny outraged expressions — and for Juan Cantu as the father Don who has his fibs of his own up his sleeve.
Joshua Oliveras as the hot-tempered Fernando, Leesa Castaneda as Dona Susana who is searching for a well off husband for her daughter, and Adianez Verdicia as the ambitious businesswoman Lucrecia all steal their own share of scenes in this riotous farce. Hopefully, once fully developed, the play can reunite this stellar cast.
What is Playfest at Orlando Shakes?
The annual Playfest 2022 features six new plays presented over two weekends, with the next performances coming up on Nov. 4-6. The readings are performed live at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, and there are opportunities for the audience to stay after the performance for a post-show talk back.
Coming up this weekend:
1.The Berlin Diaries
A Drama by Andrea Stolowitz being performed on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
2. Bite Me
A Dark Comedy by Eliana Pipes being performed on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m
A Science Fiction Love Story by Greg Lam being performed on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.