In 2013, creators Ron House and Alan Sherman revived an abbreviated version of their 1973 Mexican cabaret parody El Grande de Coca Cola at Santa Monica's Ruskin Group Theatre. The show poked loony fun at a hopelessly inept, south-of-the-border vaudeville troupe using a brash and borderline-transgressive mix of politically incorrect clowning, off-color slapstick and broad cultural satire. Critics were wowed and audiences responded in droves.
Now House (who scripts) and Sherman (who directs) are back, this time at the Skylight Theatre, with something called El Grande CIRCUS de Coca Cola, in which the team puts the show’s original Latino caricatures through their malapropistic paces in an 80-minute, racially offensive, ruthless misfire of epic proportions.
Perhaps most poisonous to the show is that the sequel’s screechingly insensitive left turn of a retooled premise comes at the very top of the evening. This time out, the audience is told, the cluelessly sub-mediocre act of magicians, singers, acrobats and melodramatists have unlawfully relocated to the United States as undocumented incompetents with dreams of Hollywood fame, and they are intent on finagling green cards by any means necessary.
But by effectively universalizing their target from ham-handed stage actors to all undocumented Mexican immigrants, House and Sherman immediately lose the sympathy of their audience with the kind of dead-on-arrival program that only Donald Trump could find remotely humorous.
The immediate victims here are the otherwise fine ensemble of Marcelo Tubert as the bumbling but self-aggrandizing troupe patriarch Pepe Hernandez, Lila Dupree and Olivia Cristina Delgado as his designing daughters, Paul Baird as a cockeyed David Copperfield–esque illusionist and Aaron Miller as the sad-sack butt of much of El Grande CIRCUS’ gags.
The ultimate violation, however, is not only in the thoughtless backhand to Los Angeles’ fiercely hardworking families of Mexican descent but to an age-old principle of slapstick comedy: Whether it’s Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges, the reason we laugh rather than wince at their venial acts of double-dealing and violence is the fundamental bond of camaraderie built into the acts, which always redeems their misbehavior. Another name for that is compassion, of which El Grande CIRCUS de Coca Cola is fatally bereft.
Skylight Theatre, 1816½ Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; through Aug. 23. (213) 761-7061, skylighttix.com.
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