THE MIRACLE THEATRE GROUP is dedicated to celebrating Latino art and culture. They've done shows about Lorca, Frida Kahlo, life under Castro—but I can say with 98 percent certainty that until Learn to Be Latina, the word "queef" had never been uttered on that stage.
Outside the context of the Miracle's generally conventional programming, though, Learn to Be Latina doesn't seem so bold. Playwright Enrique Urueta's 2010 script promises a challenging, funny investigation of identity and ethnicity, but over the course of a wearying two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the show takes on too much and fails to balance its satiric and character-driven elements.
Learn to Be Latina opens with an interview at the offices of FAD Records, where aspiring pop singer Hanan (Nicole Accuardi) is pitching her demo album to a panel of office drones. The interviewers—Bill, Jill, and Will—demand to know what ethnicity the non-white Hanan actually is: "Everybody's something... except for white people. We're not anything."
Hanan is Lebanese American. And according to FAD, that just isn't gonna cut it in a post-9/11 world. Fortunately, all brown people look the same to the American public, and Latinas are in—so FAD's "ethnic consultant" (Olga Sanchez, who's terrific here) is brought in to remake Hanan into a chart-topping Latina songstress.
Unfortunately, Latina doesn't stop there.
Soon Hanan's involved in a lesbian relationship with FAD's receptionist, Blanca (Michelle Escobar). Their tryst seems intended both to ground Hanan's character, and to throw another axis onto the identity that Hanan is beginning to chart. But the two actresses have zero chemistry, and their scenes together tend to suck the air out of the room, and the production as a whole falters in its transition from political to personal. (Upbeat dance numbers like a confident, hilarious rendition of "Single Ladies" in the first act give way to a clunky, Aimee Mann-scored sad-person montage in the second.)
Latina is a comedy of the sort invariably described as "provocative" by people who haven't spent much time on the internet—jokes about racial stereotypes and AIDS dementia are bargain-basement shock-comic material. There are some good, sharp lines, though, particularly in the show's more focused first half—and while the script is overreaching, it's nonetheless great to see the Miracle producing bold, contemporary new work.