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Taking a 'Chilean Holiday'


On the day Gen. Pinochet took over Chile in 1973, Santiago party girl Digna unveiled her breasts along with the Chilean flag in a rowdy public salute to the new government. She created quite a stir.

Guillermo Reyes' "Chilean Holiday" opens with this scene and then moves forward two years. Digna's turning 30 on the same day that the Pinochet regime is celebrating its second birthday. She'd like to find a way to repeat her moment of glory, but the country has changed. Now, it's a lot harder to party on.

Digna's a grand character. Whether she's whipping out acerbic retorts or softening at the sight of a gift or stumbling through a hangover, Maria Canals plays her to the hilt in Outpost Theatre Ensemble's production at Ventura Court Theatre.

It's decision time for Digna. Her stepmother Cecilia (Jenny Gago), a genial gypsy who sought stability by marrying a cop (Jose Rey) three decades her senior, is anxious to move Digna out of the house. She suggests two options: Digna could marry the young cop and equestrian star Lautaro (David Barrera) or she could join her sister in Los Angeles. Digna is tempted by the United States, home of Hollywood and Elvis Presley, but she doesn't want to be a maid.

Meanwhile, she can't help but think about her teenage lover, a longhaired young man who has recently disappeared, possibly the victim of the secret police. He's about the same age as her cocky stepbrother (Ron Garcia), who's always complaining about the government and might disappear as well if he doesn't watch out.

Reyes wrote some sparkling dialogue and maintains a surprisingly light tone, considering the context (was he at all inspired by Philip Barry's "Holiday"?). He doesn't allow melodrama or pontificating to interfere with his portrait of a group of people who are reacting in different ways to the changed political circumstances. Although it's clear where his sympathies lie, he refrains from demonizing anyone.

Too bad that he insists that we take the proposed marriage of Digna and Lautaro at least somewhat seriously. Although we can see the erotic attraction here, it isn't credible these two would consider marriage, especially Digna. To his credit, Reyes finally pulls back from this theme.

Barrera eloquently suggests the unspoken emotions of Lautaro, who's even more attracted to Cecilia than to Digna. Gago's Cecilia is a bundle of mixed emotions, too, and Garcia, Rey and Margarita Cordova as Lautaro's tavern-owning mother also have some sterling moments.

The opening scene is a shade too muted in Nancy Chris Evans' staging, and the pacing isn't helped by two laborious blackouts near the top, but the action picks up soon enough.


"Chilean Holiday," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends May 25. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours.

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