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Theater review: 'Ruby, Tragically Rotund' at LATC

September 17, 2009 |  3:00 pm

Ruby Director Jon Lawrence Rivera, longtime head of Playwrights’ Arena, helms one of the most genuinely eccentric productions of the season in “Ruby, Tragically Rotund,” Boni B. Alvarez’s  world premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Mostly, that’s a good thing, but we are ultimately victims of a bait-and-switch.

The play starts out as a lighthearted comedy about Ruby (delightful Ellen D. Williams), a “big girl” of Filipina descent whose spirit is as big as her bountiful body. Ruby is hounded to “reduce” by her slim mother, Edwina (Fran de Leon), who dotes on Ruby’s slender sister, Jemmalyn (Marc Pelina, oddly but amusingly in drag).

Ruby’s slenderness-challenged gal pals, played by Regan Carrington, Alison M. De La Cruz and Angel Felix, act as a perky Greek chorus, commenting on the action in flawless unison. The comic stakes are raised when Ruby, hoping to win a college scholarship, competes against her sis in the Miss Sunnyvale beauty pageant.

There’s a movie-of-the-week predictability to the premise that is fortunately ameliorated by Rivera’s sprightly staging and a talented cast, which includes Robert Almodovar, Kacy-Earl David and Mark Doerr. To his credit, Rivera commits fully to his material — but his energies are thanklessly expended in the weird and wild final scene, a denouement that has the unfortunate smell of misogyny about it and vitiates all the character and plot development that have come before.

It’s fine to shake up your audience, but not if the transition to tragedy is so bizarrely unmotivated. Uncertain whether to laugh, cry or yawn, we wind up feeling merely pranked. 

--F. Kathleen Foley

Ruby, Tragically Rotund,” LATC, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Oct. 11.  $30.  (213) 489-0994, Ext 107.  Running time:  1 hour, 45 minutes

Photo: Kacy-Earl David and Ellen D. Williams, top, in "Ruby, Tragically Rotund." Credit: Ed Krieger