Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
Enrique Urueta's equal opportunity offender has toured the country, including a stop at Minneapolis' prestigious - and tough-minded - Mixed Blood Theatre. But Diversionary's iffy prouduction makes one wonder why it's getting so much play.
The staging, by an uncredited director, begins sharply: three robot-like talent people from FAD ("Funky Artist Development") interview Hanan, a promising singer. They sit at a long white table - on Matt Scott's minimalist set it, like the chairs and floor, is an antiseptic white. The trio does mirrored movements, and one-liners zing. But then the precision fades. What follows are sketchy scenes, languid pacing, and uninspired choreography.
And the script, which relies on ethnic slurs for its humor, fades as well. It's soon clear that the writing needs externals - the jokes, the dancing, an obnoxious hand-puppet - to prop up a flimsy storyline. But the humor isn't "adult." It's lowest common denominator adolescent.
Hanan Mashalani, the singer, is Lebanese. To kick-start her career, the people at FAD want to make her Han'an, a Latina superstar. She requires reinvention, they say, because she isn't marketable (she must "keep the West and forget the rest").
Along the way, the playwright dabbles in the politics of gender, identity, and sexual preference. But these questions linger in the wings, more than anything else, as pseudo-validations of the story.
The token scenes where Hanan and her lover Bianca (Olivia Espinosa) talk about the themes fall flat. They play more like lectures than heartfelt wrestling with burning concerns.
The most effective comments come from Tamara Dhia's reactions when Hanan first resists the change. Dhia's transformation, when she's seduced into a co-opted Han'an, is also impressive.
As Mary O'Malley, the company's ethnicity guru, Faeren Adams huffs and puffs all evening (she does a far better turn as a Latina talk-show host). Amanda Cooley Davis, Dangerfield G. Moore, and Steve Smith do what they can as minions from FAD.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights. Playing through December 18; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-220-0097. For map and directions see Theater Listings.