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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Theatre Rhinoceros Presents, Sirena, Queen of the Tango

Also see Richard's review of Vivien, the Triumph and Madness


Theatre Rhinoceros opens their 2001-02 season with Guillermo Reyes' Sirena, Queen of the Tango. Theatre Rhinoceros is the oldest gay theater group in the country and is known for its cutting edge productions. This production is presented in association with El Teatro de la Esperanza.

Sirena ... marks the third play in Guillermo Reyes' trilogy, which started with Men on the Verge of an Hispanic Breakdown and Deporting the Divas. This production possesses less politicizing and more pizzazz than the first two. Sirena made an appearance in Deporting the Divas, but "she demanded a vehicle of her own." Sirena ... is more in the style of Charles Ludlam or Charles Busch.

Sirena ... is a romantic camp fantasy complete with elaborately choreographed tango numbers. It is a nice take-off on film noir, with scenes and even dialogue from such movies as "Now, Voyager" and "All About Eve". There is even a scene directly out of "Rebecca," with Sirena and a character resembling Mrs. Devers.

The word "Queen" in this play refers to cross dressing. Sirena refers to him/herself not as a drag queen but as a "gender allusionist." There are actually three separate stories in the production with a love story weaving the three together. Sirena is the seductive and mysterious Tango Queen. The opening act presents the most cohesive of the three stories. It starts with a Santa Monica police sergeant coming out to to talk about a dame. It's almost a take off on City of Angels. He tells of the woman he met, or is it a woman, and the romantic hold he or she has on him. He tells us this person has had many husbands and they have all ended up as cadavers. He is speaking, of course, of Sirena.

The somewhat confusing and over long second act takes place when Sirena flees on a cruise ship in the Caribbean where she is been hired to be a singer and to do other naughty things to the geriatrics on board. The third act takes place back in the United States in Santa Monica and it involves a completely overlong court room scene that goes totally off the wall. Everyone is trying to be in a Marx Brothers film and it just does not work.

This production runs 2 hours and 30 minutes and should be cut to 2 hours, maximum. There are long, boring and confusing stretches that could easily be cut. The most professional of the small cast of characters is Matthew Martin, who is one of San Francisco's better female illusionists. He has the look of an erotic dancer down pat. The series of tangos Martin performs comprise the show's highlights. In this production his character slips into Bette Davis mode very often, as if he were playing this role as Bette Davis doing Evita. It is worth seeing just to watch him.

The rest of the cast just cannot stand up to Martin's professional acting. Stephen Bass, the Sergeant, looks just like a Santa Monica police investigator. Jennifer Fagundes, who plays two roles including the young Anne Baxter character in the second act and the prosecuting attorney in the third, goes completely over the top in both roles. She needs some control in some of the scenes. It's alright to camp but to over-camp is to stomp the character to bits. John-Michael Beck, a talented young actor, needs greater control also. In some scenes he is great while in others he just hams it up to a point of being almost embarrassing. The cast is rounded out with Javier Galito-Cava and Yvonne Price who manage to put some life into their roles.

Actor Hector Correa directs this farce and he does a creditable job, but he needs to get the cast to practice more control. Some of the timing should be fixed since there are many clever lines that are being thrown away.

Sirena runs through October 6 at the Theatre Rhinoceros at 2926 16th Street, San Francisco, Ca. Tickets are $15 - $24 and can be obtained by calling (415)861-5079. The next production will be Marga Gomez's The Twelve Days of Cochina which opens on November 8 and runs through December 9.




Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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