Theater / Film
Review: Armando Santana’s ‘Hoo Hah!’ gets a True Mirage world premiere in Miami Lakes
Darcy Hernandez-Gil as Mama and Milaimys Castellon as her daughter Lil in the True Mirage world premiere of Armando Santana’s “Hoo Hah!” (Photo courtesy of Thiana Berrick)
Miami’s True Mirage had a hit last March with the Robyn Brenner-Mackenzie Anderson song cycle “Songs from the Brink,” a world premiere piece about life challenges of people in their 20s. The not-for-profit company’s stated mission is to empower emerging artists, produce new works (mainly from BIPOC playwrights with BIPOC/Latinx casts), and present thought-provoking plays.
Now the company, which performs in different spaces, has returned to Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes with the world premiere of Armando Santana’s “Hoo Hah!,” which runs through Sunday, Nov. 12.
Santana, a New World School of the Arts grad, calls his play “a comedy of preventability.” What he means is that in a piece set in the world of theater, the ego-driven characters could try to stop the obvious, imminent disaster of a preview night gone hideously wrong. Yet these narcissists, driven by emotional scars and raging ambition, stay laser-focused on themselves.
Stylistically, “Hoo Hah!” blends comedy, farce, absurdist theater, even melodrama. Though the title refers to the name of a teen actress who may or may not make it through the first preview of a play titled “A Dress Dipped in White.” But it’s also a deliberate reference (despite the “h” on the end of “hah”) to the slang for a woman’s private parts.
To wit: When Hoo Hah (Sara Jarrell) is writhing on the floor, struggling to breathe as she chokes on a walnut, the play’s director looks into her mouth and asks her mother, “How much deeper do I have to look inside your Hoo Hah?” That joke becomes the play’s running gag, never failing to get a laugh from some in the audience as others sit stony-faced.
The play’s time period isn’t made clear – director Daniel Gil describes it as post-apocalyptic, maybe after World War III has plunged the world back into a 1920s way of living – but it’s set in a gloomy dressing room with torn wallpaper and the well-worn, messy décor of a place in decline. When the story becomes particularly menacing, even deadly, Angelina Esposito’s lighting stands in for a growing bloodbath.
It begins with Hoo Hah and her leading man, R.T. Waldorf (Randy Garcia) singing the sweet Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald kind of love song that ends the first act of “A Dress Dipped in White” (the original music and lyrics are by Miamian Thiana Berrick. Then the action shifts to the star dressing room at a theater in Savannah, Georgia, where Jarrell’s curvy Hoo Hah proceeds to choke and wheeze and agonize her way through nearly the entire play.
The only person who notices or seems to care about Hoo Hah’s predicament is her elder sister Lil (Milaimys Castellon), the visual opposite of her struggling sis. Lil is dressed in a potato sack (her one and only item of clothing), her face and body smeared with dirt, her long hair thoroughly matted. When her mother tells her she stinks, you believe it.
Ah, yes, Mama. Once a sparkling star of the stage, former actress Maddy Rawson (Darcy Hernandez-Gil, who stepped into the role just before opening and mastered extensive dialogue) makes Mama Rose in “Gypsy” look like Mother of the Year. She lives to push Hoo Hah to ever-greater heights, but the glory is vicarious – she’d just as soon be on the stage herself and knows she’d be better.
To Maddy, sweet and loyal Lil is nothing but an encumbrance, a servant she doesn’t have to pay. Her long speech detailing how Lil ruined her life is a skillfully chilling repudiation of motherhood.
While Hoo Hah is choking, intermission is being extended, then extended some more. That’s not a good thing.
The author of “A Dress Dipped in White” happens to be the President of the United States, Jacob Wringer (Ricky J. Martinez), a man who takes disappointment badly. He’s there at the Merrik Theater (not named for legendary producer David Merrick, we presume) with nearly 1,000 other restless audience members. By the time he gets fed up and literally blasts his way into Hoo Hah’s dressing room, Ringer has counted each cherub on the theater’s proscenium arch.
Ringer, who is leading a nation at war, appears to be both an explosively violent lunatic and a man who could teach Hannibal Lecter a thing or two about deceptively soothing words. Martinez, the most experienced actor in the cast, is wonderful as infuses the production with artful energy.
Everyone else has to contend with Ringer’s volatility: Stagehand Charlie (Nick Valdes), who doesn’t have to put up with Ringer for long; a quaking “Dress Dipped in White” director Tobias Craw (Gil, who directed Santana’s play, designed the set, co-designed the costumes with Hernandez-Gil and did the sound with the playwright and Hernandez-Gil); the usually drunk Waldorf, choking Hoo Hah, predictably surprising Lil and Mama Maddy, whose domineering personality evaporates in the presence of the playwright-politician who once added her to his long list of conquests.
“Hoo Hah!” is an inside baseball sort of play, most fully appealing and accessible to those who find even the minutiae of the theater world fascinating.
Santana is a talented playwright who doesn’t need a joke title or crude language to make audiences connect with his script. Plenty of people in the first Saturday-night audience did just that, laughing a lot, gasping when President Ringer did his worst. But could “Hoo Hah!” have used more rehearsal time, a bigger budget and a few more actors of Martinez’s caliber? Absolutely.
WHAT: True Mirage Theater world premiere of “Hoo Hah!” by Armando Santana
WHERE: Main Street Playhouse, 6812 Main St., Miami Lakes
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 12
INFORMATION: 786-484-4711 or www.truemiragetheater.com
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