BWW Review: Clever LA FOTO: A SELFIE AFFAIR at GALA Hispanic Theatre
While every theatrical performance these days is prefaced by a request to turn off cell phones (which somebody invariably ignores), few plays have really delved into how the devices have so rapidly changed everyday life.
But it's the central concern of Gustavo Ott's clever new play "La Foto: A Selfie Affair," getting its world premiere at the GALA Hispanic Theatre.
It's the sixth play at GALA to be staged by the prolific Venezuelan playwright, who now lives in D.C. and begins its tale on the sleek set of Jessica Cancino almost immediately when a single mom of a certain age (the delightful comic actress Luz Nicolás) takes a glamorous shot of herself just after a shower, intended for an old flame she's been rekindling first on Facebook and then in texts.
The selfie gets its recipient Denis (Carlos Castillo) in hot water when his wife (Maria Peyramaure) discovers it; their teenage son (José González) overhears the ruckus, gets a copy of the incriminating photo for himself and soon it's all over school.
The viral fallout is one that could be played just for laughs and indeed you might think the whole thing would be a sex farce from ads that promise "a LOL comedy." But there are deeper ideas in Ott's work that are sensitively brought out by the talented ensemble.
Nicolás' character Laura considers herself deserving of romance, and is proud of how she looks in her late 40s - especially after her daughter (Samantha Rios) shows her how to retouch, sculpt and otherwise airbrush her selfies.
Denis detects a loss of his masculinity and ability to attract women as he reaches 50, even if he is married and has a family. Mortality looms in an era when youthfulness is king. And to further make the work seem up-to-date, he thinks frequently of David Bowie's recent death and how he depicted himself in his last videos (Bowie's music from his final album "Blackstar" plays as well in David Crandall's sound design).
The teens just want to keep from being embarrassed by their parents.
Under Abel López's direction, the evening moves quickly in a set full of sliding panels of translucent glass that double as giant representations of cellphones when key pictures fly by (Christopher Annas-Lee is in charge of projections and lighting design).
It's a very strong cast, with Castillo, like Nicolás, resisting becoming simply a comic character, and Peyramaure as his wife a standout when she strikes out on her own. Karen Morales rounds out the adult cast as a friend who serves as sounding board for Laura's scheme.
But the teens are highlights as well - González is full of energy and Rios - who was a contestant on TV's "The Voice" last season - someone to watch out for in future productions.
"La Foto" has an immediacy to it that speaks to contemporary audiences even as it may capture for future generations our unusual time in the viral online world, where, Ott points out, Facebook is "a hell full of happy people."
Set in Miami and spoken in Spanish, "La Foto" is translated in English on supertitles that ably keep up with the snappy dialogue.
When it comes to its end, though, you may want to think twice before ever turning your smartphone immediately back on.
Running time: About 100 minutes, with one intermission.
Photo: Samantha Ríos and Luz Nicolás in "La Foto: A Selfie Affair" at GALA Hispanic Theatre.
"La Foto: A Selfie Affair" runs through Feb. 23 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St NW, Washington, D.C. Tickets available online.