Creating distinct characters is always a challenge in a one-person show, so here’s a quick cheat sheet for figuring out exactly who Eliana Lopez is portraying at any moment during What Is the Scandal? / ¿Cuál es el Escándalo?
Lopez: Slinky black pantsuit, loose hair, possibly salsa dancing.
Mama Lopez: Straw hat.
Grandpa Lopez: Creaky voice, different hat.
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi: Glasses and gringo accent spoken … very … slowly. Hat budget presumably depleted at this point.
Mr. Lie: Fake mustache, glasses, squint. Calls Mirkarimi “Macaroni.” Also the mayor.
[jump] Scandal, playing at the Mission Cultural Center For Latino Arts, is Lopez’s version of what happened in 2012, when her husband was charged with domestic violence just days after being sworn in as sheriff, and the ensuing City Hall hand-wringing. It has just one star — Lopez — and was directed and written by her brother, Alfonso Lopez.
Presumably for legal reasons, the bilingual production (with subtitles on a screen behind the stage) is preceded by a notice warning that all characters are entirely fictitious. Add the overly broad characterizations for the baddies in the story, which Lopez says are composites of real characters and activist groups, and it’s even harder to swallow as a definitive account of what really happened in 2012. Mr. Lie is hilariously crooked as he orchestrates Mirkarimi’s ouster, while the neighbor whom Lopez allows to videotape a bruise on her arm is a manipulative liar who calls Venezuelans “savages.”
The other characterizations are overly broad, as well — Mirkarimi is Robin Hood by the Bay, and apparently so strapped that Lopez’s pregnancy eating habits strain his finances to the breaking point. (Was she eating truffle ‘n’ gold flake sundaes?). As for the infamous bruise, Lopez acts out the argument in which Mirkarimi grabs her arm — but it’s only because he’s terrified by Lopez’s suggestion that she take their son to (apparently dangerous) Venezuela for the holidays, plus his own childhood abandonment issues.
Scandal won’t clear up what really happened in that car — or what’s really going in Lopez and Mirkarimi’s marriage — and the broad strokes don’t shed any light on City Hall's inner workings. What Scandal does shed light on, however, is Lopez’s own feelings. Her indecision about leaving her native Venezuela is very real (a character notes that Latinos have a hard time here, which is true), and her loneliness as a pregnant newlywed longing for her family’s Christmas celebrations is palpable. Her anger is also apparent as what she calls a minor spat turns into a citywide crisis and Mirkarimi is forbidden to see his family.
Lopez — who made her name in the National Theatre Company of Venezuela and later in soap operas — argues, in essence, that sometimes private family arguments should stay just that: private. It’s food for thought. But when 64 percent of female assault victims are hurt by their intimate partners (it’s 16 percent for men, CDC says), it’s hard to draw a line. In any case, you only have another week to see Lopez rotate among a bunch of characters using hats and glasses.
What Is the Scandal? / ¿Cuál es el Escándalo?, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday through June 7, at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., 415-821-1155.