nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
August 12, 2006
Hermanas, a new work by Monica Yudovich, is the kind of warm-hearted, very polished situation comedy that one simply doesn't expect to see at the Fringe Festival. Despite some fairly stereotyped characters that populate the piece, ultimately the gentle direction and amiable cast make the experience a worthwhile diversion.
Billed as a Texas-based hybrid Latin-Jewish comedy, Hermanas successfully draws comparisons between the two backgrounds and shows far more similarities than differences. The script itself falls somewhere between a middle-of-the-pack Neil Simon play, an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and the collected works of Joe DiPietro; which means that there are plenty of zingers and one-liners, some memorable characterizations and predictable plot twists—and there will be a crowd-pleasing ending. Fortunately, due to the casting of such a polished ensemble of actors, the production transcends some of the weaker scripted material and director Claudia Zelevansky (and casting director Michael Cassara) should be commended for that.
The plot involves a younger sister, Lisette Herman (performed by playwright Yudovich), who is attending the University of Texas in Austin and has just broken up with her overly preening Latin lover Eduardo (Paolo Andino). Her sister Claudia (Adriana Gaviria) returns from New York at her sister's doorstep and immediately proceeds to try to pimp her out to the too-good-to-be-true-boy-next-door Danny (Ryan Duncan). Danny is a Jewish mother's dream come true, and fortunately we get to meet Mrs. Telma Herman in the hysterical personage of Kathryn Kates, who pulls off an impressive trifecta of being Jewish, Latina, and completely endearing.
Claudia invents a dinner party that Lisette will host, to which she invites Danny. Danny arrives with Gabriela (Denise Quinones, the 2001 Miss Universe winner), and hilarity ensues when Eduardo also shows up. It turns out that Eduardo and Claudia shared a drunken romance earlier that week, and the curtain falls until Act Two. There is adequate resolution in the second act, despite some loose-end subplots that are rather irrelevant and seem to have been better left out entirely.
Yudovich plays Lisette straight and allows her castmates to shine around her protagonist, so she acquits herself well. Gaviria is excellent in the tricky role of the older sister Claudia who makes Lisette's life infinitely more complicated, and she gives the character depth and believability. Kates's Señora Herman is the emotional center of the piece, and the axis around which Hermanas revolves. Her voicemail messages alone are worth the price of admission, provoking serious belly-laughs from the entire room. Andino also makes a strong positive comedic contribution as Eduardo, a purveyor of malaprops that would do Yogi Berra proud. Andino's delivery is pitch-perfect and turns a character that, in lesser hands, could be a disaster into a bumbling, well-meaning charmer. The remainder of the ensemble serves the piece well under Zelevansky's direction, as she gets the actors to commit to their characters without overreaching and to overcome some of the thinner dialogue.
Most important, Hermanas has a soul to it, and it is a fully developed family comedy (not frequently spotted at Fringe). It charms its way beyond its flaws and lets one leave the theatre with a warm and fuzzy feeling, much like a member of la familia itself.