The Internet, cell phones, and photoshopping are not only for the young, and the narcissism they engender is not only the provenance of millennials. The most refreshing thing about Gustavo Ott’s La Foto: A Selfie Affair is that the subjects of both the titular snapshot and the social media-age fallout that follows it are grown men and women. Parents, to be precise, trying alternately to hold on to their youth and to be mature adults, while failing hilariously at both.
The trouble starts with Laura (Luz Nicolás) taking a bathroom-towel selfie and getting her teenage daughter Kelly (Samantha Ríos) to poke a few buttons and swipe a few swipes to retouch the photo. After marveling at the wonders a little phone app can do for her hair color and bust size, she sends the image to her old high school boyfriend Denis (Carlos Castillo). Having recently reconnected via Facebook, they carry on a purely phone-based affair, until Denis gets a little too careless with his little ego-booster of a pic and allows it to escape into the wider digital world.
In the play’s brisk first act, these proceedings won’t go anywhere you wouldn’t expect to see on a sitcom, albeit a crisply written one. Laura brags about her reawakened seductive powers to her friend Ale (Karen Morales) in the middle of a grocery store; Denis makes increasingly more ridiculous attempts to evade the interrogations of his wife, Thais (María Peyramaure), going so far as to suggest that receiving random nudes is just a daily hazard of having a cell phone. Clever quips about our digital era, such as “Facebook is a hell full of happy people,” abound, but the overall sense veers a bit more towards the timeworn battle-of-the-sexes.
There is one exception to the familiarity of these scenarios before intermission, however, in a curious scene between Kelly and Denis’s son Fran (José González), in which a very different photo, from a yearbook, proves to be an opportunity to debate and review their memories of different people. It’s unfortunate that Ríos (showing remarkable poise for apparently her first venture onto professional stages) and the equally talented González do not get much of a chance to follow up on this scene in the play’s second act, although the deeper humor and reflectiveness exhibited in their encounter is passed on to the adults.
closes February 25, 2018
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Ott slowly turns the dial from broad comedy to of-the-moment drama. Castillo is a fantastically watchable whirlwind of impotent outrage and desperation as Denis spirals into midlife crisis, the invincibility and casual misogyny of his youth giving way to a digital abyss of mortality. The focus – perhaps unsurprisingly for a play written by a middle-aged man – is here on Denis, but Nicolás also gets juicy material as Laura fights back against a growing scandal, and Peyramaure displays unaffected poise when Thais takes action to preserve her well-being.
The playwright is aided in this tone shift by the steady hand of his frequent collaborator, director Abel López, who never passes judgment on these children-trapped-in-aging-bodies. The action moves mostly fluidly about Jessica Cancino’s set that looks like plain, contemporary architecture but feels like the inside of an iPad, especially when Christopher Annas-Lee’s subtly distorted projections appear on the walls.
As long as you are willing to go where it wants to take you and not fuss too much about a cliché here or there, La Foto ultimately offers more than some satirical observations. You may come for the promise of a chic comedy, but you will leave with more than a few haunting thoughts about memory, aging, and our image-obsessed society – and still have the opportunity to take your own selfie at the lobby’s official La Foto photo station.
In Spanish with English surtitles
La Foto by Gustavo Ott . Directed by Abel López . Featuring Carlos Castillo, José González, Karen Morales, Luz Nicolás, María Peyramaure, Samantha Ríos . Scenic Design: Jessica Cancino . Lighting and Projections Design: Christopher Annas-Lee . Costume Design: Mooyenda Kulemaka . Sound Design: David Crandall . Properties: Tony Koehler . Stage manager: Nelly Díaz Rodriguez . Produced by Gala Hispanic Theatre . Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.