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Verónica del Cerro is one bad father-inlaw-fucker.
Octavio Solis’ wild 1994 farce El Paso Blue is engrossed in questions of identity and belonging. Its main player, Al (Andrés Talero, seductive and energetic) is the son of Mexican immigrants who sees his third-runner-up beauty queen bride Sylvie (Verónica del Cerro in a hilarious blonde wig) as his passport to a better life. But while he’s serving a prison sentence, she takes up with his father, Jefe (the venerable but decidedly not-Mexican Lawrence Redmond, in his GALA debut). With the help of a soothsayer, China—Alina Collins Maldonado, playing a Manic Pixie Dream Chica who carries a water pistol loaded with acid—Al and his buddy Duane (Bob Sheire) pursue his spouse and paterfamilias across the state. It’s Oedipus in reverse.
At least I think that’s what’s happening. This prismatic tale unfolds out of sequence, and narrative clarity is less director José Carrasquillo’s objective than sustaining an atmosphere of frenzied surrealism. That he does.
Regina García’s stunning set features a one-room house and a telephone pole canted toward the audience like a still from a German expressionist film. Michael “Hawkeye” Herman’s roadhouse-blues score is a showcase for some good honky-tonk singing from del Cerro, who hitched her wagon to Al because, she says, “the pale boys next door” couldn’t start her motor. (There are also a couple of smartly choreographed line-dancing breaks.) That set, plus the bluish cast of Christopher Annas-Lee’s lighting design, creates an atmosphere so unsettling that it takes a few minutes to notice how funny the show is, packed with Vaudeville-style jokes.
“I got my wrath,” declares Al. “I got my fury. You got yours?”
“It’s parked right over there,” says Duane.
Poor Duane is even more luckless than Al, receiving radio signals in his brain ever since he took a shotgun blast from his old lady intended for his friend and had part of his skull replaced with a metal plate. “My kilohertz awful bad!” goes a typical complaint. Sheire brings a loose-limbed physical comedy to the part that doesn’t undermine the sense that he and everyone is stumbling around in some desert purgatory.
He’s matched in this effort by del Cerro, stumbling around drunk in her Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots like she has no fear of breaking her ankles. But there’s a poetry in her self-pity, especially when she likens herself to the obscure flip side of a beloved song. “Nobody plays the B-sides on the jukebox,” she laments. Speak for yourself, Lady.
The play runs to June 26. 3333 14th St. NW. $20–$90. (202) 234-7174. galatheatre.org.