Learn to Be Latina has a little something for everyone. A Missy Elliott dance routine featuring a backflip that transitions into twerking. A muff-eating puppet. AIDS jokes. The Macarena. A tender lesbian love story. A Twin Towers pantomime.
Subtle this is not. But it's precisely this balls-to-the-wall (including some literal balls, to the walls of a restroom stall) offensiveness that makes Enrique Urueta's comedy work. Brassy and boisterous with plenty of bombass dance sequences, Learn to be Latina follows an aspiring young pop star named Hanan (Nicole Accuardi) who's told by the record label that she's "the wrong kind of brown." She might be sexy, but in a "shawarma-eating, suicide-bomber kind of way." So the Lebanese-American Hanan enters identity boot camp to refashion herself as a booty-swiveling, leopard print-wearing, "arriba!"-whooping Latina diva.
Urueta, who gained national attention for this play, is a brilliantly snappy writer of button-pushing dialogue and killer one-liners: "Identity is as negligible and negotiable as a back-end hooker," quips "ethnic consultant" Mary O'Malley (Olga Sanchez, who also has a great turn as a tittering talk-show host). Still, Urueta trades in a few worn stereotypes, and his stabs at poignancy miss the mark. That means Hanan's budding lesbian relationship proves neither steamy nor stirring, and the play ends with an all-too-tidy, overly earnest redemption monologue.
But these Milagro performers, under Antonio Sonera's confident direction, are so fully committed, so completely switched-on, that the play becomes a showcase for their myriad talents. This is especially true for the trio of record-company functionaries, played with alternately militaristic precision and loose-limbed abandon by Kelly Godell, who pinches her malleable face to hilarious effect; Orion Bradshaw, who styles himself a very sassy Justin Timberlake in a "Dirty Pop" dance routine; and Matthew Kerrigan, responsible for the aforementioned backflip and a fierce "Single Ladies" solo in black leotard and stripper heels.
Within all the silliness, Urueta asks provocative questions about how we revise and edit our identities. It's perhaps most interesting to see his play as a litmus test for what sorts of jokes still have the capacity to shock—and nevertheless prompt laughter. While some of Urueta's lines, such as how all lesbians look like either Roseanne or Lyle Lovett, landed with a thud on opening weekend, his most transgressive jabs elicited guffaws as well as gasps, a kind of collective "Did he really go there?" By turning one of the play's consistent questions—who's the arbiter of appropriate behavior?—on the audience, Urueta makes his play that much more diabolical, that much more delicious.
SEE IT: Learn to Be Latina is at Miracle Theatre, 525 SE Stark St., 236-7253. 7:30 pm Thursdays, 8 pm Fridays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through May 31. $17-$26.