The full moon appeared the biggest and brightest in 20 years last weekend when The 3 Rascals (A3vidos) performed at Teatro de la Luna. The moon in its orbit arriving at its closest point to the earth took part in a happy coincidence.
Laughter like a healing balm spilled throughout Teatro de la Luna’s black box theater. Who gets these results? Distill his name in your mind – the spectacular Petru Valenski, the charismatic lead actor/comedian of The 3 Rascals, assisted by pianist/trumpeter Fabián Silva and singer/dancer Danilo Mazzó, who brings the Peruvian cajón drum to life. The trio performs Café Concert, rioplatense style, as they do in Montevideo. It is carnival time and the style is expressive and over-the-top, drawing upon poetry and songs. Even musician Silva’s face shows emotional involvement, as he does double-takes while playing the upright piano.
Café Concert rioplatense is stand-up satire from the River Plate, urbanized areas of Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the Castilian dialect from Spain is heard. In the U.S. we see parodies of American politics on TV’s “Saturday Night Live”. In contrast, Uruguayan satire lampoons anything topical under the Latino sun.
But during the time of military dictators, stand-up was prohibited. Now that Uruguay is a constitutional democracy, there’s more freedom of expression, Valenski indicates, after he belts out, “I’m still here….Here I am,” with phenomenal, hurricane-force energy. Valenski is a survivor and a cabaret star in Montevideo, known for captivating audiences for over 600 uninterrupted performances in As Crazy as a Loon (Mas Loca que una Cabra).
In the skits that follow, a lid is taken off a boiling pot. Maybe it’s because the economy has gone to hell. Or a sense of existentialistic doom has overtaken the contemporary scene. But the rambling, free-associative soliloquies that sound like improvs, are upbeat and funny when told by lunatics. There really is no plot line except that the narrative follows a time line from 1960 to today.
Valenski and Mazzó break the fourth wall to speak directly to us. They glide through multiple costume changes, mixing characters and non-stop story telling. As a team, they ridicule—among many things—Uruguayan women who are always late, mothers addicted to fads and psychoneuroses, modern child rearing psychology that lets the kids do whatever they want, celebrities like Paris Hilton, and politicians and presidents, Latino and American. Valenski hits a high point when he jokes about how celebrity soccer players have done more to unite the country than any dictator did.
Decked out in an androgynous black tux, vest and earrings, this fast-talking entertainer is amazingly facile on needle-thin, spike-high-heels. He uses the mike like a musical instrument to blow off steam as if by sending out energy he receives energy back that feeds him even more. His saucer-big eyes and Cheshire-Cat grin, like the lipsticked mouth of a friendly crocodile, freeze us with laughter. A quick change to a white wig and clinical smock, during one of the short blackouts, brings us Teresa, the nosy woman, “the typical woman who knows everything,” and everybody and even gets friendly with the front row spectators.
When Mazzó takes his turn at monologuing, he’s a kid. Dressed like a little boy in a green-and-white checked outfit and duck-billed cap turned backwards, Mazzó does a take-off on modern education. “No dad, I didn’t flunk. The teacher loved me so much she wanted me to do the grade over again.” In a show-and-tell Red Cross demonstration at school, the “good kid” unhooks his grandpap’s oxygen tank at home and brings it to the classroom.
It’s when Valenski and Mazzó team up to spoof what they call the most famous love story in the world, the Hollywood blockbuster “Titanic”, that audience volunteers are enlisted to play supporting roles. Valenski and Mazzó impersonate Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the young lovers in the “I am king of the world” scene. Once several audience members are on stage, Valenski directs an even funnier parody of the erotic chorus line from the multi-award winning 1972 movie “Cabaret”. It’s wild and hilarious.
Valenski’s casting makes a point. The performing arts unite people from many different Latin American countries and cultures. On Friday night, for example, volunteers from the audience came from Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala and Spain.
Overall, the comic style of The 3 Rascals is a cut above the extreme slapstick found in the American vaudeville act, The Three Stooges. The Three Rascals reach emotional depths of genuine pathos. At a climactic moment, Mazzó in his beautiful voice, sings a ballad, based on poetry from Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti, one of the most influential of Latino writers: “We sing because the river is running…..because cruelty has no name….We sing because of the survivors and the dead want us to sing.” Then Valenski miraculously pulls it all together by telling us that comedy is good for us. Laughter exercises abdominal muscles. “It cures sickness. It elevates the spirit.”
Teatro de la Luna, the theater of the moon, has brought the best from Uruguay its earlier How to Avoid Falling in Love with the Wrong Man and now The 3 Rascals. A full supermoon will wane by next week; but this first rate musical revue of stand-up comedy has staying power like its star performer. Don’t miss it.
In Spanish with live English Dubbing by the incomparable Marcela Ferlito.
From Uruguay with Laughter: The 3 Rascals
(Del Uruguay Con Humor: A3vidos )
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running time: approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes