In a cute bit of Latin-flavored time travel, the elaborate environmental staging of "Salon Mexico" transforms the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts into a 1930s nightclub. Inspired by a scandalous real-life murder, this new play by Margarita Galban and Lina Montalvo explores the crisscrossing paths of high and low society in the famous watering hole, Mexico City's answer to 42nd Street.
Following the foundation's usual practice, English and Spanish performances are offered on alternating weekends. Regardless of your language preference, however, early arrival is advisable, as events get underway well before the formal curtain time. In the makeshift lobby cantina, performers circulate among the congregating audience to set the stage for a traditional dance competition--serving refreshments and even coaxing dance partners into quick two-steps.
In the midst of the festivities, a shot rings out, and the audience is herded into the theater for a police investigation into the deaths of the club's most popular dance contestants--Mercedes (Mercedes Carreno), who desperately seeks a better life for her fatherless daughter, and her low-life partner, Paco (Manolo Travieso), an unrepentant thief and philanderer.
Through flashbacks triggered by various witnesses' recollections, we piece together the tawdry tale of a relationship wracked by passion and betrayal. Historical celebrities who frequented the club broaden the social perspective, with composer Aaron Copland (Gregory G. Giles) offering pithy comments on injustice, and painter Diego Rivera (Sebastian Feldman) contributing to the harmony of all mankind via a barroom brawl. Among the uneven cast, the standouts are Daniel Light as the oily club owner and James Victor as a kindhearted cop with an unrequited love for Mercedes.
Unfortunately, neither the story nor the characters offer much coherence or depth, and fall short of the literary standards seen in previous efforts from the Foundation.
"Salon Mexico," Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Los Angeles. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Nov. 4. $22-25. (323) 225-4044. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.