“Quite a collection of misfits,” mutters the drug addict Ajay (John Murphy) toward the end of Deep Dish Theater Company’s current presentation of MI VIDA LOCA; and there really isn’t anything more appropriate that could be said about the characters presented here. The audience is introduced to Ajay; his estranged wife, Maggie (Jane Underhill), who is convinced Ajay is trying to kill her; their perma-drunk adult daughter, Lulu (Helen Hagan), who still lives at home and has a fear of flying; their sketchy yet charming son, Paco (John Allore); the youngest child, Bubba, (Aaron Dunlap), who can’t seem to keep a girlfriend; and Ajay’s beautiful caretaker, Diana (Jeri Lynn Schulke).
Ajay is ultimately shipped off to a pain clinic to kick his habit once and for all, and the audience watches as the family members go about their lives. Lulu drinks and parties, while Paco strikes up a romantic relationship with Diana. Maggie doesn’t do much of anything except stay away from the house and bitch at her children whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The cast is small, giving the play a very intimate feel; and it is incredibly strong, thanks to superb casting and coaching by director Paul Frellick. Helen Hagan’s Lulu is definitely a weathered partier, but the actress manages to bring out Lulu’s sweetness and vulnerability. The interactions between Hagan and John Murphy are particularly well done and prove subtle but moving. Lulu is the kind of daughter who can put up with and accept her father’s faults without bitterness.
John Allore’s Paco is likeable with just the right touch of sleaze, and his daring onstage assignations with Diana sizzle and steam. John Murphy is a perfect Ajay down to the gleam of mischief twinkling in his eyes. The only slightly disappointing performance is Jane Underhill’s portrayal of Maggie. Although Maggie isn’t given a terrible lot to do, Underhill chooses to play her as a bit too dull and lifeless, not giving the character the spunk she deserves. Many of her key lines of dialogue are also lost due to mumbling and a low voice. Contrarily, Aaron Dunlap’s Bubba, who also has limited stage time, is thoroughly intriguing. The audience desperately wants to see more of him and learn more of his story.
One of the most enjoyable and impressive aspects of this production is the ramshackle beach-house set, designed by Rob Hamilton. Hamilton uses real sand and painted backdrops to create a realistic beachy feel, and the cluttered wraparound porch of beach house is just perfect. Not only does the house look real, with its messy porch and paper star lanterns; but it is also brought to tacky perfection by the countless strands of Christmas lights strung from the porch ceiling. Surprisingly, these work very well during the aforementioned steamy encounters between Diana and Paco.
The show’s ending feels abrupt, but it works and actually adds to the realistic, almost gritty nature of MI VIDA LOCA. Audience members leave feeling as though they have just gained six new friends. These are characters that it is simply impossible to forget. In the end, although each one of these characters is, perhaps, irredeemably flawed, the audience loves them, making the show well worth a watch (or two).
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 8th Chapel Hill, NC DAILY TAR HEEL review by Colin Warren-Hicks (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/09/mi_vida_loca_acting_drags_down_production; Sept. 8th Durham, NC INDEPENDENT WEEKLY article by Danny Hooley: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/treme-creator-eric-overmyer-comes-to-chapel-hill/Content?oid=1653342 and Sept. 1st review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/eric-overmyers-family-drama-mi-vida-loca-at-deep-dish/Content?oid=1640361; and August 31st Raleigh, NC NEWS & OBSERVER review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/08/31/655728/meandering-mi-vida-loca-examines.html. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the August 25th TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/08/deep-dish-theater-company-kicks-off-its-10th-season-with-mi-vida-loca-by-eric-overmyer/.)
Deep Dish Theater Company presents MI VIDA LOCA at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16; 8 p.m. Sept. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, and 18; and 2 p.m. Sept. 5 and 12 in the space beside Branching Out at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
TICKETS: $19 ($12 students and $17 seniors and educators), except all tickets $9 on “Cheap Dish Night” on Sept. 1st and a $2 discount for Wednesday and Thursday shows.
BOX OFFICE: 919/968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: Dramaturg Karen Blansfield will give a pre-show talk at 7 p.m. on Sept. 3rd, and there will be post-performance discussions on Sept. 5th and Sept. 9th (“Meet the Designers”).
NOTE 2: The Deep Dish Book Selection, THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen, will be discussed after the Sept. 12 performance. (For more information about this national book Award winner, see http://us.macmillan.com/thecorrections. For more information about the author, see http://us.macmillan.com/author/jonathanfranzen.)
NOTE 3: At 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 18th, there will be a preshow reception to honor visiting playwright Eric Overmyer.
The Play: http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=1386 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=people&first=Eric&last=Overmyer&middle= (Internet Off-Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0653899/ (Internet Movie Database).