Dunno what it is about munitions-related titles, but they sure seem to detonate effectively at Gala Hispanic Theater. A few years back, the troupe’s La Grenada (The Grenade), thundered to grand, existential effect about the fate of a soldier who cannot throw his weapon after pulling the pin. And now, the company’s having a blast unearthing explosive secrets in Gustavo Ott’s dark 2003 comedy Tu Ternura Molotov (Your Molotov Kisses).
The evening begins, sex-farce style, with a distracted Daniel (Timothy Andres Pabon) searching the heavens for UFOs while his wife Victoria (Menchu Esteban) babbles about the optimal vaginal temperature for conceiving a boy. With a hot water bottle and some heavy breathing, she finally has both body and hubby fired up, only to have passions doused by the arrival of FedEx, with a package from the FBI.
It turns out to be a backpack she reported missing some 12 years earlier during a sojourn in New York, and while she seems pleased to have recovered her favorite torn jeans, she’s otherwise anxious to return to lovemaking. Any chance Daniel has of doing so, alas, evaporates when he spies a long-forgotten birthday present with a tag that reads, “For my wife, Victoria,” from a man with a decidedly Muslim name.
I shouldn’t say much more about the evening’s surprises except to mention that without particularly changing comic gears, the Venezuelan playwright manages to shift the discussion from sex to gender, from marital stress to tensions of class and culture, and from babymaking to bombmaking. Arguments that still seem Neil Simon–bright (at least in their surtitle translation from the Spanish being spoken onstage) are suddenly studded not just with the extra volatility you’d expect at the revelation of long-kept secrets but also with the words “Hamas” and “terrorist.”
Ott’s main targets are bourgeois hypocrisy and double standards, though he reserves a barb or three for folks who want Christian notions of forgiveness to apply to essentially unforgivable acts. Victoria’s secret—arguably a youthful indiscretion—isn’t the only one exposed before the final flameout. And though they’ve learned to speak carefully about incendiary topics, this seemingly pleasant couple would win no awards for sensitivity even in an era less concerned with political correctness than ours.
For all its topicality, the play doesn’t feel particularly scathing. It is, however, snappily presented in Abel Lopez’s handsome staging, which owes much of its elegance to designer Elizabeth J. McFadden’s glamorous high-rise apartment, with its spotlit sculpture, sleek modernist furniture, and angled windows. As the characters discover, a whole world can be seen from those windows, but only if you’re willing to look.