Inspired by the 1946 Rita Hayworth film “Gilda,” and evidently too many cliche-ridden movie magazines and gossip columns of the 1930s and ’40s, Edwin Sanchez has attempted to write a play about the trials and tribulations of Latin performers in Hollywood during the period. But his fictionalized life of Margarita Carmen Cansino, who eventually became “screen goddess” Hayworth, is a failure. “Diosa” — Spanish for goddess — is, put simply, amateurish.
Sanchez seems to have stopped with his first aimless jottings for a play. There’s no character or plot development, few insights into the Latin experience in Hollywood, and far too many embarrassingly labored dance numbers. They range from Spanish-with-castanets to swing and include a jitterbugging American-Indian and his squaw in a movie musical.
The latter features 15-year-old Josefa/Rita (Karina Michaels) and her bullying dancer-father Miguel (Robert Montano), who sells his daughter’s flesh to a talent scout (Matthew Mabe) in return for a screen test for himself.
Josefa’s mother Amber (Josie deGuzman) wallows in jealousy and anger at her daughter after her husband decides she’s too old to be his dance partner. Eventually Josefa marries the agent who debauched her, mostly so that he can sign contracts until she’s an adult rather than rely on her reluctant father. The play concludes with Josefa giving up on her hopeless husband and taking control of her career under the guidance of the man who previously fired her, studio head Kramer (Edmond Genest), who may or may not be based on Darryl Zanuck and/or Harry Cohn.
Clumsily written and staged, the production is also ineffectively cast. Anyone trying to play Hayworth is at an impossible disadvantage, and Michaels has neither the presence nor the figure to do so believably. She’s not even convincing as a teenager.
The set is a vast black-and-white Hollywood soundstage that’s often bathed in red for spotlit dance numbers. A huge movie screen is dropped for one scene in which Josefa sees herself dancing, and an immense mirrored ball is used to speckle the theater with light during a pointless, vaguely surreal dance number. A gauzy stage-wide curtain and three chandeliers decorate the stage for a formal dinner party at the home of studio head Kramer.
Catherine Zuber’s costumes for the Hayworth character are based on those worn by Hayworth in her most famous roles, despite a disclaimer in the program that “any similarities or resemblances to any persons, alive or dead … is purely coincidental.” Unfortunately, that assessment is all too true of a play in which everyone is a paper cutout.