Magazine article Variety

Trophy Wife's Life Proves Rife with Strife

Magazine article Variety

Trophy Wife's Life Proves Rife with Strife

Article excerpt

Second Stage really knows how to show a girl a good time, the proof being its excellent track record of producing vital work by important women playwrights. Chalk up another win with "Mala Hierba," a funny and frightening work Mala Hierba that Chicago playwright and TV scribe Tanya Saracho ("Looking," "Girls") has set in the household of a brutal player in the narcotics trade on the Tex-Mex border. In helmer Jerry Ruiz's riveting production, the real drama takes place behind the scenes, in the private life of the tyrant's gorgeous trophy wife and the women who either enable or threaten her precarious existence.

Marta Milans, the Amazonian beauty on ABC's recently axed "Killer Women," gives the drug lord's wife, Liliana, everything a trophy wife must have to survive - and then some. Besides the body of a goddess and the Scheherazade-like skill to contain her husband's irrational rages, she also possesses the street cunning of a girl who came up from abject poverty and the strength to endure the punishing brutality of the monster she married. (Leather belts figure in his sadistic version of sexual foreplay.)

Liliana's faithful maid, Yuya (played with humor and heart by Chicago stage vet Sandra Marquez), is her sole companion and guardian, the kind of maternal warrior who would pick up her sword and kill to protect her charge. But not even Yuya can shield Liliana from her stepdaughter, Fabiola, a baby monster in Ana Nogueira's viciously funny portrayal.

This spoiled brat has come down from Houston, where she is supposedly studying, for her father's 55th birthday party. And since she's daddy's only daughter and the apple of his eye, this little hellcat has enormous power over Liliana. Nogueira has great fun with the role, snatching her stepmother's own party dress off her back (costumer Carisa Kelly gets the fashionably slutty look of the clothes just right), taking claim to Liliana's brand new car, and grabbing every other little toy that catches her eye.

As shrewd as she is beautiful, Liliana does the smart thing - she gives this evil princess whatever she wants and prays that she won't ruin the elaborate celebration that took six months to plan. And for a while, this tactic seems to work. "You are my favorite of my dad's wives," Fabiola bubbles. "You're almost like a sister to me - but like not."

Nogueira delivers this laugh-getting line with a chilling layer of ice, leaving no doubt that this wild child can become dangerous. …

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