By Bobby Vela
“My back to the wall, a victim of laughing chance.
This is for me, the essence of true romance” —Steely Dan
Joni Ravenna’s smart new play Blinded, is a light-hearted, but devilishly clever examination of the complex deceptions of love; it’s true meaning; it’s ultimate possibilities, through the lens of a dark, romantic comedy.
A young man, Donald Starke, (Chris Muto) is suffering from hysterical blindness. The onset of the blindness occurred when Donald was 17-years old and he witnessed his mother doing something a little more naughty than kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe. No, teenage Donald caught his Mommy in bed with someone else who was not his Daddy. Donald seeks therapeutic treatment for his psychosomatic blindness with cynical, manipulative psychiatrist, Dr. Bob Silverton (Rico Simonini, a real-life cardiologist).
Dr. Bob’s treatment plan for Donald is fraught with his own self-serving, romantic ulterior motives, then it does clinical concern for his blind patient. Dr. Bob’s prescription: “Seduce and have an affair with my wife, Bridgett” (Cindy Marinangel). But, for Dr. Bob’s quirky treatment plan to work, the young and lovely, Bridgette must not find out that Donald is blind.
This is all an elaborate ruse by the good doctor to leave the way open to keep his assistant and mistress, Cheila, happy.
Enter the fiery Latina, Cheila. The very funny star of many varied off-Broadway roles, Marilyn Sanabria, plays Cheila with pitch-perfect Latina passion and fire. In fact, Sanabria could easily be arrested, tried and convicted of Grand Scene Theft. Her presence on stage is powerful, eye-catching, head-turning, laugh-inducing, and hard to ignore. Sanabria’s Cheila is a pushy, sexy force to be reckoned with.
Dr. Bob is desperately, head-over-heels smitten with the dazzling Latina spitfire. He wants her bad. “How bad does he want her?” Well, he wants her so bad, he’s willing to sacrificially offer up his beautiful wife to the hysterically blind Donald to feed his ego and secure the affections of the alluring Cheila.
Cheila wants something too. Ulterior motives in matters of love, is a two-way street. She wants to marry a rich doctor, even a creepy one like Dr. Bob, and be spoiled, pampered…and she wants it bad.
But when Cheila discovers what the oily Dr. Bob is up to, she is furious because she is “nobody’s punching bag” She immediately dives into action, by taking what she feels she is owed to her by her rich lover. When a cad, like Dr. bob, deceives in pursuit of love, karma can turn out to be a red hot, Hispanic bitch.
Under the capable direction of T. J. Castronovo, the entire cast of Blinded maintains a fine, audience-pleasing rhythm, timing and pacing set to Castronovo’s masterly comedic metronome. To paraphrase an old real estate axiom: in comedy, everything is timing, timing, timing.
In Blinded, the comedic timing exhibited by the cast in their back-and-forth volley exchanges of jokes and delivery of one-liners is reminiscent of classic comedy teams like Burns and Allen, Mike Nichols and Elaine May and The Smothers Brothers. The result is a most entertaining, spot-on dark, romantic comedy that sparkles with laughs.
But, in my eyes, the performer who glows brightest in Blinded is Marilyn Sanabria. Just watching Sanabria, as the incorrigible Cheila (pronounced Shay-lah, not Shee-lah or Cho-lah) chew up the scenery, had me in stitches.
Sanabria bears a physical resemblance to Tina Fey and exudes the former SNL star’s dry wit and charm. As an actress, Sanabria reminds me of a young Sara Jessica Parker in her early Broadway heyday.
In Hollywood, where there seems to no longer be a shortage of Latina talent, Sanabria definitely stands out. Her glowing comedic turn in Blinded is a testament to her wide-ranging versatility as an actress. It’s also yet another shining entry in her impressive resume of stage performances. Like her irrepressible character, Cheila, Sanabria is a force to be reckoned with now.
Joni Ravenna’s Blinded is packed with dark humor and funny, adult banter. You know the old cliché; Love is blind. Well, in Blinded, it truly is hysterically blind.
Writer: Joni Ravenna
Director: T. J. Castronovo
Producer: John Lant
Cast: Chris Murto, Rico Simonini, Cindy Marinangel, Marilyn Sanabria
Blinded, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through August 13 at the BrickHouse Theatre located at 10950 Peach Grove St. in North Hollywood. Tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors. Visit BrownPaperTickets.com/event/2993431 or call (800) 838-3006 to make reservations