Here’s breaking news. Women have just as many extra-marital affairs as men do. Is this factual? It’s a play. It’s all fantasy by the stereotype-smashing, Venezuelan playwright Elizabeth Fuentes.
Are Latina women unfaithful to their husbands? Yes. How shocking is that? It destroys the sacred myth of machismo, the Don Juan legend, and Latino Lovers. My Husband is a Cuckold, which has enjoyed acclaim before full-house audiences in Caracus, and played to sold-out, overflow crowds last Friday and Saturday nights, is a high-velocity comedy with a well-deserved, needle-stab aimed at a double-standard.
What is even more newsmaking is that Venezuelan actress Elba Escobar, who performs this one-woman show, has been named Honorary President of Teatro de la Luna’s 13th International Hispanic Theatre Festival. We last saw Escobar as the Mother Superior, Sister Eloisa, in Doubt (La Duda) in the 2008 festival. Now Escobar has shed her spiritual habit for the character of the free-spirited, free-loving journalista, Elicita, who talks her editor into an assignment on feminine infidelity, headlined: “We Mess Around.” Forget the issue of harassment. Elicita’s task is to document whether wives indulge in extra-marital sex as often as husbands do.
From the overhead: Sounds of a typewriter, the old-fashioned clackety-clack kind, and throbbing, mysterious music, heavy on the ostinado. This time infidelity starts in the newsroom. Mr. Now-And-Then, another journalist, writes on Elicita’s monitor: “I like you—a lot.” So Elicita, who has a loyal husband and a young, promiscuous daughter, investigates.
In her reporter’s monologue, Elicita drops statistics from Italy, Spain, Chili and Venezuela. But the sensational part comes from her life. After lunch dates and after-work martinis, Elicita tells us that Mr. Now-And-Then is more than drop-dead handsome. He’s an incredible hunk. When naked, he’s a clone of Michelangelo’s statue David. When dressed, he wears a black leather jacket. But somehow after each hair-raising fling, Elicita returns home to safety in her husband’s bed—a liberated woman. Or is she?
From a nun to a philandering wife, Escobar proves she is versatility personified as an actress. Also she’s endowed with a voice like a rock star. Even on a stripped-down, black-curtained stage, Escobar, who is amazingly exuberant, consistently spontaneous and refreshing, can bring an audience to a standing ovation. Dressed simply in black pants and white blouse and flowing red scarf, Escobar prowls like a friendly kitten. Elicita clearly is having rip-roaring fun and so are we. But mixed in with her expressive, good-humored banter about how not guilty she feels, Escobar projects a sense of anxiety. One can’t help but wonder: Methinks the lady protests too much.
Here’s something new that comes from a psychiatrist, who gives his wow-factor analysis: Women’s need to philander is deep and ancestral, related to survival. It’s far more than mere adventurous escape from boredom into a dangerous zone. Women need to feel protected by a male. Since men insist on fighting wars, women have to keep an extra man in reserve.
Not all goes well with this ethic. Escalating complications land Elicita on the shrink’s couch as well for addiction “to uncertain encounters.” As Elicita’s secrets spill out, we learn her Rules of Engagement. “Don’t Tell. Don’t Ask,” is key to keeping husbands in the dark, she says. But living free from guilt is the most difficult, she finally admits. Escobar as Elicita convincingly sneaks in the down side, the fear of abandonment from both fronts: husband and lover. There is loneliness of heart underneath the frantic search. There’s even Mr. Now-And-Then’s jealousy to face. At another point, Elicita is weeping alone on the couch where she once confessed her escapades.
Whereas this duplicitous lifestyle may sound more attractive for a man, in that a married woman won’t place demands on him for divorce, the play’s message doesn’t always arouse side-splitting laughter. Fuentes seems to be telling us: Fall in and out of love and live to the fullest, but prepare now and then to become the “suffering antagonist.”
I came prepared to dislike this play because of its title but walked-out loving it because of Escobar’s delivery and the play’s twist ending, brought to emphasis by a full-bright lighting change (lighting by Marisol Flameno), emphasizing that Mr. Now-And-Then has feelings and longings for long-term commitment too. “Why won’t you get divorced for me?” Plus, Escobar gave a direct-address epilogue (as English Restoration comedy actresses did in the 17th century), that is an ultimately satisfying editorial.
Escobar explains why Elizabeth Fuentes wrote her book and play about infidelity and changing stereotypes. In the Latino culture, some fathers encourage sons to be unfaithful to their wives to prove their masculinity. Mothers don’t hand down that ethic to their daughters. The children see infidelitiy as dishonesty but continue the cycle. Honesty is best, Escobar concludes. And we become aware that perhaps the greatest illusion is that infidelity is bliss.
This play has closed.
My Husband is a Cuckold (Mi Marido Es Un Cornudo)
By Elizabeth Fuentes
Directed by Enrique Salas
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Teatro de la Luna’s XIII Festival Internacional de Teatro Hispano continues thru Nov 27, 2010 at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, VA.
Embracing Dreams (Ambrazando Suenos) is the theme this year. With the festival-style turn-arounds, I know it’s too late to catch up with Venezuela’s entry. But the rest of the Festival season is like bringing in the paladins of The World Cup for soccer (La Cupa del Mundo), the prize-winning theater troupes from Latin American countries.
Next week: From Spain, which did win the coveted soccer cup, comes a bitter-sweet comedy about Spanish women, The Happiest Day of our Lives (El Dia Mas Feliz de Nuestra Vida), Thurs., Fri., Oct. 28, 29, 8 p.m.; and Sat. the 30th, 3 and 8 p.m.
The first weekend of November, Help! I’m Getting Married (Socorro! Me Caso), from Argentina, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 4, 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 6, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. from Argentina.
The second weekend, Romeo and Juliet, A Work in Progress, also from Argentina, continuing themes on dream and illusion, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 11, 12, 8 p.m.; Sat. Nov. 13, 8 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The third weekend, Ubu Rey, from the Dominican Republic, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 18, 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.
Also the third weekend, Drops of Water, (Gotas de Agua), continuing the be-kind-to-the-planet theme, from Teatro de la Luna’s “EXPERIENCE THEATER,” for young spectators, Sat., Nov. 20 & 27, 11:30 a.m.
The last weekend, Wistful Memories, (Techaga’U Anoranza), from Paraguay, Thurs., Fri., Nov. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 27, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.