Along with company members Sal Lopez, Lucy Rodriguez and Geoffrey Rivas, the result is a fittingly old-school and fast-paced piece that evokes the golden age of radio plays without being a 1940’s period piece at all. Sprinkled with a few well-placed contemporary culture and technology references along with a total lack of corny old-timey language idioms, the story is definitely now, but it artistically exists in a kind of post-war dream aesthetic. The scene and mood are set at the Shangri-La Hotel, and moved by the hard-boiled stylized urgency of the voiceovers, the jokes about a UCLA/USC rivalry, the anachronistic pinstripe suits and women in gloves, sexual innuendo, classic movie references and iPhones.
Written by resident playwright Evelina Fernández (who also stars on this production as Esmeralda, one of the scenarios’ righteously indignant women on the verge) and directed by Latino Theater Company artistic director José Luis Valenzuela, the work was first staged at LTC in 2014 and revived there in 2017, with acclaimed national productions in between. Like many theater groups, the pandemic pivot inspired the company to reinvent this beloved work as a serial radio play.
In switching narrative voices and deftly using both flashback/voiceover narration and enacted dialog, the work flirts with camp but never devolves. It’s funny without being a comedy, and a thriller without being scary. In the sense that you don’t really ever know how it’s going to end, the resolution is ultimately both satisfying and oddly plausible. Like any good drama, but especially the noir-inflected variety, the audience’s opinion of who is the villain, the victim, or the hero of the story continues to shift right up to the last moment.