If you haven’t heard of Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao than it is quite possible that you have been stranded on an island (not the D.R.) for the last year and half.  The novel written by Dominican born author Junot Díaz has been such a hit in the Mission District that it was near impossible for the more than seven Valencia bookstores to keep the book in stock this Christmas.

Campo Santo Theatre Company’s premiere of the stage adaptation Fukú Americanus, sold out on Thursday night proving that audiences still can’t get enough of the story.

Like the book, the play developed and directed by Campo Santo’s Sean San José, and co-directed by Marc Bamuthi Joséph illustrates the turmoil of growing up while simultaneously coming to terms with cross cultural identity, messy family secrets, and unrequited love.

The play centers around the book’s lead character Oscar, an over weight “ghetto nerd” who is convinced he will die a virgin –a characteristic his sex crazed tío describes as “very un-Dominican of him.” He fears his fate is sealed by a long-standing curse otherwise known as a “Fuku” that has followed him from his home country, the Dominican Republic to New Jersey.

Oscar finds refuge in his passion for science fiction and fantasy and navigates his life journey by writing books. Each chapter allows the audience to enter the culture, chaos, and comedy of Dominican family life both in New Jersey and Santo Domingo.

Oscar’s portrayal by Brian Rivera is sincere and although you know his character is self-defeating and at times awkward you still have your fingers crossed that he will get laid. Rivera’s own panza (belly), makes it easier to believe that he really is Oscar Wao.

 From left to right actors: Carlos Aguirre, Brian Rivera and Vanessa Cota.  Photo credit: Rebeka Rodriguez.
From left to right actors: Carlos Aguirre, Brian Rivera and Vanessa Cota. Photo credit: Rebeka Rodriguez.

Oscar’s character is deepened by the other five cast members, who take on multiple roles as uncle, grandmother, friend, lover, neighbor—and stage hands.

Biko Eisen-Martin, who plays the voice of reason and quasi narrator is especially good. As the only actor who never leaves the stage the show is dependant on his energy and it never flags.

But the heart of the story comes from Oscar’s sister Lola played by Vanessa Cota. Cota embodies the role of the overprotective sister and rebel daughter. Through strong, yet emotional monologues, Lola, smart and sassy, battles with her mother and gives shape the family’s troubles.

Performed on a moveable stage the size of your backyard porch the intimacy of the space gives you the sense of being in the lap of your own family drama. And reflective of our own Mission District community is the exchange of English and Spanish, resulting in lines like, “I don’t care about nada.”

Adding to the appeal of the show is the ability of the characters to give what some may see as a modern day history lesson of the Dominican Republic. The characters use raw language and a projector to effortlessly explain the effects of the Trujillo dictatorship and Dominican slang like pariguayo. (Party watcher, or a guy that is usually bad with ladies)  Diaz did the same by giving long footnotes a significant role in the book.

This play is not a skimpy, cliff notes version of the slim,  300 page book. It lasts more than 2 and ½ hours, and Sean San José draws heavily—and happily for the audience—on the novel’s dialogue.   Live hip hop beats and African drumming speed the pace.

Fukú Americanus runs through June 21, 2009, Intersection for the Arts,  446 Valencia Street between 15th and 16th Streets,  8pm. $15-25,,  415.626.2787 x.109. Thursday performances are “Pay-What-You-Can” performances (reservations required for all shows.)

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  1. the first part does a fine job of condensing everything, but glosses some important details on the mother’s background. The second part wasn’t as good at condensing and caused more questions than provided answers. It also has no true conclusion, unlike the book. Still it really is worth seeing.

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