Kiss My Aztec! at the Berkeley Rep

“Kiss My Aztec!” at the Berkeley Rep.

Carol Benet

“Kiss My Aztec!”, a world premiere at the Berkeley Rep, comes from a book written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone based on an original screenplay by Leguizamo and Stephen Chbosky.  It is a musical satire that is Tacccone’s last work of his tenure as Artistic Director of the Rep.  It is a  fitting tribute to his more than 30 years at the theater, which he has made into one  of the best regional theaters in the country.  And with with his friend and co-author Leguizamo, he has created a very funny play that will most likely go on to New York as did so many of those that started at the Rep.

Leguizamo is the famous performer, film, television personality and playwright with many awards including an Obie. His solo piece “Latin History for Morons” had its world premiere at the Rep. under the stage direction of Taccone in 2016 before going on to New york where it was nominated for two Tony Awards in 2018.

The play is a political and social spoof on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec’s in the 16th century and the decimation of their civilization that dated from 1200 A.D..  With music played by a live on-stage band of eight and composed by Benjamin Velez with lyrics by David Kamp, Velez ad Leguizamo and with excellent dancing choreographed by Maija García, the two and a half hour show with one intermission flies by.  It is completely entertaining.

The action starts with a contemporary set that depicts a barrio with buildings covered in graffiti.  A gentle and awkward puppeteer Pepe (Joél Pérez) falls in love with an aggressive take-charger Colombina (Yani Marin) who leads him around from one adventure to another.  The story shifts back to the 16th century with a recounting of the history of the the Aztec nation.  With lyrics that switch from rap to recitative and ballads, the narrator starts telling everyone that while Europe was just developing, the Aztecs were building pyramids and discovered chocolate. And what did the Spanish contribute — tapas.

An ensemble of 10 sings “White People on Boats”  telling of the diseases, the rapes and devastation that the Spanish brought. Then the set changes by bringing in a red velvet throne chair with the Spanish Viceroy Rodrigo (Al Rodrigo) who instructs his fey son Fernando (Zachary Infante) that he has to arrange a political marriage of convenience between his daughter Pilar and Sebastien who conveniently has his standing army nearby.

The nymphomaniacal Pilar (Desiree Rodriguez) has other ideas, of course, as she is smitten by Pepe, a black man, and she refuses Sebastien’s (Infante again) hand. It is the coke-addict Pierre (Richard Henry Ruiz) who is to make the match possible.  He’s the “fixer”.  Pillar’s maid Tolima (Maria-Christiana Oliveras) tries to perform her magic according to the ancient Aztec rituals. There are songs and dances with three cardinals who are the Inquisitors in long red robes and a gospel choir of believers.   This play spares no one — gays, born-agains, the church, royalists, mesa-american witches.

With lots of plot twists and devices, the two time periods, the present and the 16th century coalesce and and the finale, like in so many happy musical comedies, ends with weddings of two couples and much merriment to the song and dance when they sing “The World is Getting Browner”.

There are so many funny moments in this satirical musical thanks to the entire crew, the  excellent actors, many of them coming from NewYork and making their debuts at the Rep, the sets and costumes (Clint Ramos), and hysterical props (lots of cod pieces)  that “Kiss My Aztec!” has a very bright future.

“Kiss My Aztec!” runs at the Berkeley Rep. through July 14, 2019.  510 647–2949 or

customerservice@berkeleyrep.org

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →