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Theater Review: “LOL: Latina on the Loose!”

By Jenae Cohn

Oct. 4, 2009 10:34 p.m.

Actress Mina Olivera sits on what appears to be a travel chest, tucks her knees almost to her chest with her small feet pointed straight toward the floor, and takes a drag from an imaginary cigarette.

“Mina,” Olivera croaks, imitating her beloved grandmother, “You must show them your worth.”

Throughout UCLA theater alumna Olivera’s one-woman and self-written show, “LOL: Latina On the Loose!” playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center through Oct. 11, Olivera aims to live by her grandmother’s influential mantra by sambaing, salsaing, smiling and laughing her way through her life experiences as a young Brazilian woman attempting to redefine herself as an American actress while still embracing her cultural heritage.

A 90-minute one-act show, Olivera traces her family’s history from her grandparents’ humble beginnings in “a box with no floors” in Brazil to her parents’ tumultuous union, to her own journey across the Americas to pursue her dreams in her adolescent and young adult years.

Olivera’s infectious exuberance rarely wanes as she reenacts her life’s defining moments. Managing to maintain a grin on her button-cute face even after recalling moments of intense emotional suffering, it is impossible not to adore Olivera by the end of the show. Her experiences with love especially resonate, as she traces the evolution of an abusive relationship with a machismo Cuban-American and how she learned to respect herself. Embracing her most embarrassing moments, from giving her boyfriend “something that starts with a “V” (“And it wasn’t my “˜virtue!'” she exclaims) to unabashedly “shaking her tootsie roll” to attract a hip DJ’s attention, Olivera’s frank, lighthearted take on her relationship proves nothing less than endearing.

“LOL” moves at a steady, though not completely fluid, pace as it is packed full of anecdotes from Olivera’s colorful life. Indeed, Olivera’s life story could have used another hour to tell. The clunky transitions between her journeys to different corners of the world makes Olivera’s storytelling seem artificial, as the gaps between her life are bridged only by the running of a video slideshow, portraying pictures of her family and the places which she visited. While Olivera attempts to keep up the cheer and unify her narrative jumps with solo samba dancing, even her good spirit cannot entirely compensate for some of the unsatisfying disingenuousness that plagues moments of the show.

Yet Olivera tactfully tackles the race issues at the show’s core, peppering her primarily English story with the Spanish, French and Portuguese of her international upbringing in Brazil, El Salvador and Switzerland. An interaction with a racist junior college counselor, who pronounces Olivera’s last name “olive-era,” and insists that Olivera’s dream of attending UCLA (“ook-la”) is impossible, is an especially poignant memory that shapes her continued desire to “show her worth.” Though Olivera does not touch on broader political concerns, such as U.S. immigration control, she maintains emotional resonance by focusing on her desire to establish cultural comfort, evoking some of the show’s biggest laughs in turning to friend “Maria-Jose,” otherwise known as “Mary-Jane,” who, in Olivera’s words, “knows the species” of the American “gringos.”

The heart of “LOL” lies in the approval Olivera seeks from her grandmother and her drive to succeed in the States. “LOL” may not evoke big guffaws, but it may jerk a few heartstrings in spite of the constraints and inherent artificiality of a one-woman show.

– Jenae Cohn

E-mail Cohn at [email protected]

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