Theater Review: Lola Goes to Roma

‘Lola’ offers a world tour of clichès
May 3, 2006 8:19 AM
Yet another frustrated movie script masquerading as a play,
Josefina Lopez’s “Lola Goes to Roma” follows in bitty and piecemeal fashion the travels of a Los Angeles-based mother and daughter in Europe. Apart from a colorful set and glamorous parade of costume design, the play has little to recommend it — full of anti-intellectualism, tired clichès of European nations and perfunctory writing.
The play tells us little about life lived, but more about the amount of European-set Hollywood films watched, stitched together as it is from remnants of “Roman Holiday,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Shirley Valentine,” and a whole slew of Yanks abroad romantic comedies.

But this is 2006, and Ms. Lopez’s play is virtually brand new, with one previous show at her own Casa 101 Theater in Boyle Heights. SBCC’s friendship with the playwright started with its production last term of “Real Women Have Curves,” which, though formulaic, at least tackled in a humorous way issues of immigration and body image.
There’s little depth, however, in the main character of Roma (Dekyi Ronge), a young graduate student who has just received her doctorate and plans to spend the next several weeks on a European vacation. However, she returns home to find her father dead from cancer, and her mother, Lola (Marina Gonzalez Palmier) is mourning.
Or is she? This was the end of a long illness, and of a marriage long since drained of love. Lola is ready to party, it turns out, and after a ham-handed scene where Roma’s other siblings conspire to get her out of the house, Lola and Roma are off.
This is predictable, country-jumping travelogue, with a vivacious and sex-hungry older woman and a frumpy, repressed younger one. Roma’s repression stems from being too educated, it appears, an odd message for a college production to be promoting, and a step backward from the “Real Women” portrayal of a struggling student. Nothing appears later to challenge this stereotype, only to reinforce it.
When Roma claims that no man will have her because she’s too smart, her mother’s remedy is that most cornball of chick-flick salves: the salon makeover.
To the pounding strains of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” Roma lets her hair down, gets her nails done, and puts on a slinky red dress, and soon enough picks up a man. The teeth-grinding simplemindedness of it all is enough to put feminism back 10 years. Yet this is the culmination of Roma’s character arc.
Not that Lola’s progression is much of one either. Lola once had a lover when she herself studied abroad in Rome back in the day (cue beatnik bongo players and Vespa drivers), a summer love that led to a tearful departure and a secret love child.
Priscilla Oliveira and Chris Johnston play the couple in flashback, and the whole episode is so hastily written and melodramatic that the end result is bathos. The same goes for the present-day reconciliation, a wordless scene that relies on pop music to provide the emotion without working for it with, say, dialogue and acting.
Ms. Lopez has her eye on Hollywood with “Lola Goes to Roma,” and indeed the program reminds us that the film version is scheduled for production this fall. In this, Ms. Lopez has succeeded well, as the play demonstrates the symptoms of the worst tinseltown product: cheap emotion, a conservative fear of intelligence and a post-modern divorce from lived experience.
Director Katie Laris manages to keep the action bustling on stage, and in collaboration with choreographer Carrie Diamond, offers up a few dance numbers which, though they never advance the plot, are at least pretty to look at. The costumes by Ann Bruice are in the service of stereotypes — mimes in striped shirts and berets(!) — but are nevertheless colorful and sometimes adorable. Ms. Bruice’s salsa club dancers sway and dip in flowing silks and polyester.
The set design by Theodore Michael Dolas allows for a morphing of the Jurkowitz Theater stage into a nightclub or a hotel room by a series of hidden beds and tables, while the walls are an abstract collection of travel stickers. Less successful is the use of an ever-present projection screen, which irritates, distracts, and spoon-feeds locations to the audience. A similar screen was used in Ms. Laris’ previous production (”Gunfighter”) to similar effect.
Plays like “Lola Goes to Roma” try to beat Hollywood at its own game, while forgetting what theater can offer what television and movies can’t: a chance to connect live actors and audience, an opportunity to develop character and discover emotion in real time. “Lola” is too busy rushing around to ever come to this conclusion.

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