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THEATER REVIEW : Oscar Viale's 'Chumbale!': Lightweight, Enjoyable Farce

March 08, 1995|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

"Chumbale!," by Argentine humorist Oscar Viale, is an unabashed low comedy about a family at war with an irrepressible son-in-law. Director-adapter Guillermo Reyes has updated the play and set it in a Mexican American household in the San Fernando Valley, where even the dogs suffer from post-earthquake trauma. Any tremors felt in "Chumbale!," though, are more likely to be caused by the furious mugging of six actors (sometimes simultaneously) than by any common aftershock.

That is not to say that "Chumbale!" (or, "Bark Louder, I Can't Hear You"), at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, does not have its charms.

As Enzo, the lovable Argentine son-in-law, Agustin Coppola joyfully embodies a Harpo Marx-like, wide-eyed Marxist who must live with his wife's flamboyantly nutty family after his espresso cart is damaged in the quake. Trouble--as they might say in a TV Guide description of this sitcom-like play--ensues.

Despite Enzo's constant entreaties, the family cannot seem to learn that they should knock before they enter the bedroom he shares with his wife, a situation that provokes many eye-popping "ayys" from our hero, who is more than once caught with his pants down. Like so many of the jokes in "Chumbale!," this one is repeated at an increasingly frantic farcical speed until at least almost everyone in the audience is made to understand the value of a good, cheap laugh.

Jose A. Garcia also scores as Enzo's endearing brother-in-law, a rookie member of the LAPD. In one of the several knock-down, drag-out and nonsensical fights effervescently staged by Reyes, you may not even remember why Garcia ends up outside a bedroom window, with his face pressed against the pane in panic. It actually doesn't matter why; it's funny.

There is some extraordinary mugging from some of the women in the cast, particularly Margarita Stocker as Mama, a kind of Lucille Ball on acid. This is an actress who, in the search for a laugh, is not afraid to cross her eyes or roll them back in her head like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." She does this so often you might begin scanning the audience for a priest.

Still, the play is harmless fun. Its major conflict centers on Enzo's wish to plaster cracks whereas Papa (Efrain Ciro Suarez, also played by Daniel Perezvertti) wants to wait for a check from FEMA, an issue that sends the family hurtling through rooms like the Keystone Kops. The family is also irritated by Enzo's Argentine dialect. "This is Los Angeles!" says Papa. "Speak Spanish!"

* "Chumbale!" ("Bark Louder, I Can't Hear You"), the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Performances alternate weekly in Spanish and in English. Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends April 9. $15. (213) 225-4044. Running time: 2 hours.

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