Last May, when The 3 Rascals (A3Vidos) performed their rioplatense cafe concert for Teatro de la Luna, the moon was at its brightest in twenty years. Comedian Petru Valenski was an unforgettable member of that trio. He has returned, accompanied, again, by an astronomical event. Look up into the sky tonight and you’ll find Venus and Jupiter are two of the brightest objects in the night sky. As dazzling as that is, comedian Petru Valenski from Uruguay, alone in a spotlight onstage at the Gunston Arts Center, outshines them both in Solo Petru (Petru: All By Himself).
For those of you not familiar with the rioplatense style of comic routine, it is needling satire that goes to the edge of crazy; it’s always spontaneous and promises to induce healing laughter.
Now that this charismatic comic is back bursting with warm bigheartedness, you have a second chance to enjoy his frolic and fun.
The frame story for this cabaret starts when Petru stops a construction worker from demolishing a movie theatre. Because Petru believes nostalgia must be preserved, stage lights dim, he seizes the microphone and breaks out singing,”El Viejo Varietes,” (“The Old Varieties,” by Maria Elena Walsh). The theater is filled with memories of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and baritone Carlos Gardel, the great Latino singer and songwriter, (“The Creole Thrush,” or “The King of Tango,” who created the tango-song.) The soul of music-hall must be brought to life again. And when Petru hits the last riff, full-volume, “..The show must go on!”, the stage is set for a performance that is over 60% improvised. Thanks to Marcela Ferlito, who succeeds in an excellent, simultaneous translation, we understand what’s going on.
The theme of Solo Petru, written and directed by Omar Varela, is “magic,” and Petru’s rapier wit is sharp as ever as he impersonates a woman. Well-coiffed in dark-haired wig, Petru is tastefully dressed in horn-rimmed glasses, a classy, short black dress, and spike high-heels. Through the disguise, he’s still the guy with the infectious, barracuda grin that stretches ear to ear. At the beginning, Petru, who plays himself, regales us with a jumbled monologue of how as a rambunctious little boy, he drove his mother nuts and became a movie addict. Every afternoon, she gave him a sandwich and deposited him at the cinema. All he learned about life, he learned from the silver screen, and from the mad things going on around him in the dark.
But the wild card up Petru’s acting sleeve is audience participation. Petru invites spectators on stage to take the roles of good and bad characters in re-enactments, some involving slapstick and silliness; but all are heart-warming and funny. For example, a hilarious send-up of Romeo and Juliet transforms into a blockbuster, cult Hollywood movie that you will be sure to recognize from Petru’s pantomime. Other comedy bits drop in the motto: “The three elements of life that cannot fail: Friendship, Love and Companionship.” You get the feeling that because the volunteers will change, Petru will adapt his material and no two nights will be the same. What’s amazing is the fluidity in this one-act that builds to a gratifying wrap-up. He tells us at the end: “This is a game where actor and audience have fun.”
As he did last spring with The 3 Rascals, Petru is able to bring many of the distinct Latino cultures together as he did last night at the show’s opening. By choosing Petru Solo to conclude their festival, Abrazo Lunar, the Moon’s Embrace, Teatro de la Luna has found a superb unifier for the four plays from four different Spanish-speaking nations.
Performed in Spanish with simultaneous translation by Marcela Ferlito through headsets
There are three remaining performances forSolo Petru: Friday, Mar. 16 – 8pm, Saturday, Mar. 17 – 3pm and Saturday, Mar. 18 – 8pm. At Gunston Performing Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St, Arlington, VA.
Details and tickets
Solo Petru (Petru: All By Himself) from Uruguay
Written and directed by Omar Varela
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running Time: 60 minutes with no intermission