Mid-Wife Crisis

Cruz: Calling for crackup

There is a delicious scene in the Hispanic Theater Guild's production of La Curva de la Felicidad (The Curve of Happiness), in which the hangdog protagonist, Quino, informs his ex's mover that he's a television writer who pens suicide notes.

Quino, you see, has been dumped because he's "too fat, too bald, and his feet stink." Yet he wildly clings to the hope that his wife, Carmen, who has left him for a younger man, will call him to reconcile.

The decrepit lunkhead is an incorrigible slob. He still can't wipe his own ass without wifey's approval, and he's been trained to "piss sitting down to avoid spotting the porcelain."

Written by Eduardo Galan and Pedro Gomez, and crisply directed by Marcos Casanova, this hilarious Spanish-language comedy dishes out heaps of madcap diversion in a tale about real estate speculation and man-o-pause.

Quino (Carlos Cruz) finds himself forced to sell his home because of the looming divorce. The action takes place in the living room of his house, a spartan set straight out of a Rooms to Go catalogue.

Mired in a midlife crisis and paralyzed by low self-esteem, Quino is preyed upon by three unscrupulous scumbags looking to swindle the lake-view property from him. Apparently there is a performance art center opening in the neighborhood, a fact everyone except the pitiful Quino seems to know.

He is set upon by the mover, by a shrink his wife has sent to put a bid on the house, and even by his lifelong chum, for whose TV series Quino writes. All of the characters are fortysomethings facing midlife implosions of their own.

Although the plot is as weak as caldo de pollo, the verbal zingers and sight gags among the four characters result in plenty of laughter, which gets louder and longer as the action stews in a way that loosely resembles The Odd Couple squared.

Hunky Javier (Carlos Brito) is a "traffic ticket doctor" and a Lothario with "a way with women." He's moonlighting as a mover and trying to seduce Quino with promises of getting him laid.

Fernando (Chano Isidron), whose marriage is also on the ropes, is a spastic pill-popping psychologist and neurotic neat-freak. He attempts to hypnotize Quino out of his house keys by offering the hapless mook his hand "in friendship, and the therapy he needs."

Quino's foulmouthed best friend and boss, Manuel (Raul Duran) -- who is pondering a third marriage and is capable of "sticking his dick in a light socket or fucking anything that moves" -- focuses his well-honed manipulation skills on his buddy, threatening him with job loss to get his mitts on the house.

As the play unfolds, the schemers try to ensnare Quino in a predatory web, unaware that the spineless dolt will end up selling each of them the home.

The writing is coarse, peppered with vulgarities that drew audible sniffs from several hair-spray-helmeted matrons. But Galan and Gomez deftly capture Quino's growing desperation amid the trio's crude attempts to flimflam him.

The croaky-voiced Quino puts his suitors through the hoops in a riotous comic turn by Cruz, who despite portraying a disaster of a man, makes him likable. Quino might be a loser, but he's one with a heart of gold.

Javier, the youngest of the bunch, sends Quino's libido into overdrive when he boasts of the myriad vixens he bestows multiple orgasms upon, and how he has "wrecked four beds" with his cocksmanship. Brito plays the swaggering womanizer with aplomb. His wiles are the first to charm Quino to sign on the dotted line.

Javier talks Quino into selling the three-bedroom house for twenty grand more than the $360,000 asking price, telling him he will deliver the cash "under the table," thus enabling the jilted man to strike back at his wife.

In the next scene, Quino launches himself into a workout routine stoked by visions of sexually ravenous nymphs dancing in his head. As he does a few situps onstage, he pulls a muscle and screams for "un Valium de 10!" Unable to find the medication, he calls Carmen, who tells him to look in the fridge. "I think I ruptured my spleen," Quino squawks before hanging up.

Later, as he ponders his total dependency on her, a knock comes at the door. It's the psychologist.

Isidron plays Fernando over the top and trowels on the twitchy mannerisms way too thick. His bug-eyed portrayal makes the character seem less healer than loon, but the audience ate up his shtick.

The shrink immediately dives into tidying up the joint as if it were already his own. He waves a dirty dish rag about and asks the quivering Quino if his sex life was good.

"I don't know. Carmen told me she had her period three times this past month," he responds.

As Fernando makes a pitch on the property, Quino tries to dissuade him, informing that burglaries are up in the hood.

"Have you been robbed?" Fernando asks.

"No," a nervous Quino quips, "but statistically I'm due."

The doctor gives him a sedative, and as Quino exits the room for a glass of water, Fernando swallows a handful of pills himself. When the fidgety homeowner returns, he finds the shrink yelling at a patient over his cell phone, and runs off to hide in a corner.

After composing himself, the louse persuades Quino to sell him the house by telling him he will open his practice on the premises and that as "his patient, he will be welcome to visit anytime." An addled Quino relents and writes a contract for the property on a wrinkled scrap of paper he fishes out of a garbage bag.

Quino wolfs down more pills with a bottle of white wine. He faces the audience and laments that without Carmen, "I have written my own tragedy."

The action jumps to Manuel, the sleaziest of the bunch, slickly played by Duran as a selfish con artist. His interactions with the loyal Quino are perhaps the most entertaining. A patented deadbeat who hides his own insecurities and failings behind bluster, Manuel might be on a worse downward spiral than Quino.

Having offered his friend "4000 $100 installments" to buy the house, he shows up to find Quino passed out in the living room and celebrates with a bloody mary when it becomes obvious he's not dead.

To cement the deal, he cajoles Quino into accepting six dollars, adding that he forgot to stop at an ATM on the way. Quino grudgingly takes the cash after Manuel tells him his job security is at stake.

Later all the would-be buyers converge on Quino to duel over who has rightful claims. The men even organize a group therapy session, hoping to work out the mess.

In the end, they predictably wind up sharing the house in what becomes a mutual self-help society. Then Carmen calls Quino, hoping he'll take her back, at which point all bets are off.

Watching the play in a full house during a Sunday matinee was much like viewing a screwy telenovela at home with the folks. In fact observing the audience's response was like watching a play within a play. Women loudly removed cookies and candies from handbags, offering the treats to nearby strangers and insisting they eat up. During intermission, elderly men passed steaming coladas around, sharing shots of cafecito with the crowd.

If a crock of rib-tickling nonsense is what you crave, this well-tuned farce hits the spot.

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