‘Destiny of Desire’ a Deliciously Dramatic Telenovela-Inspired Addition to the Old Globe’s Season

“Unapologetic telenovela” doesn’t even begin to describe the deliciousness of Destiny of Desire which, in its May opening, brings all of the twists and turns you’d expect from the genre, dripping with glamour, high drama, intrigue, and star power. The Old Globe’s newest offering plays through June 25 on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage. 

Sister Sonia and Armando speak about a baby.

Nancy Ticotin as Sister Sonia and Al Rodrigo as Armando Castillo in Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

Couched as a day of filming on the set of a telenovela (the production begins with the actors moving to the stage for a warm-up and second act begins with an “in our last episode” tag), the story begins when wealthy beauty queen Fabiola Castillo and poor housewife Hortencia Del Rio arrive at the local hospital to birth their daughters. Though Victoria Maria Del Rio is born healthy, Fabiola’s child Pilar Esperanza Castillo is weak and sickly and, in a moment of weakness, Dr. Jorge Ramiro Mendoza agrees to her pleas to secretly switch the children, landing a hefty donation from the Castillos and a forever connection to the Del Rios, who will need his support to keep their daughter alive.

Pilar and Victoria switch places by wearing each others' clothes at the charity ball.

Yesenia Ayala as Pilar Esperanza Castillo and Emilia Suárez as Victoria Maria del Rio in Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

Fifteen years later, the girls have grown into their own – Pilar is a poet who rejects her lot as the privileged daughter of a wealthy casino owner and Victoria, still struggling from a weak heart, hopes to someday become a doctor to help the poor. Hortencia works in Fabiola’s household to try to help make ends meet with medical bills while also managing the romantic advances of Dr. Mendoza to keep Victoria’s chances of a healthy heart alive. When the doctor is inadvertently shot and Hortencia is jailed, Victoria arrives to work in her mother’s stead, and this is how, on the eve of Pilar’s stepbrother’s return to favor and the family charity ball, Fabiola’s great secret begins to unravel.

From a production standpoint, Destiny of Desire is outstanding, perfectly cast, and deliciously presented. The script is quick and quippy with twist after twist. I like to imagine that playwright Karen Zacarías might have written every possible complication out on a sticky note and then moved and manipulated their order until everything fit together like a perfect puzzle. Though I doubt this was actually the case, her instincts are spot-on. Each character’s motivations are clearly presented and well developed and the secrets and surprises add to their depth, their likeability (in some cases) or recognizability as caricatures of real humans (in others), and to the overall melodrama of the production. 

Fabiola poses midstage in front of a door.

Christopher M. Ramirez as La Gente, Bianca Marroquín as Fabiola Castillo, and Tito Livas as Dr. Diego Mendoza in Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

I understand that the script was originally written as a play and is being redesigned in a hopeful Broadway bid. Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s understanding of this potential is clear in the way that he has infused intentional blocking and design elements, yet trusted his actors’ dramatic timing and mannerisms, and the original Latin music and orchestrations (Ricky Gonzalez), larger-than-life choreography (Lorna Ventura), and charmingly vicious fight choreography (Rachel Flesher), are a welcome infusion into the fabric of this story.

Pilar and Sebastian meet in a park.

Yesenia Ayala as Pilar Esperanza Castillo and James Olivas as Sebastián Jose Castillo in Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

And when it comes to the task of presenting Destiny, redesigned, for a loving San Diego audience, all performers are exceptional. A few standouts from opening night included comic genius Bianca Marroquín’s turn as dramatic villain Fabiola Castillo, James Olivas as prodigal son Sebastián Jose Castillo (his execution of the heart-wrenching mid-show classic, “Fallaste Corazón,” was flawless), and Mandy Gonzalez’s performance as martyr mother Hortencia whose rich timbre and soaring belt shone in the powerful jail cell ballad, “Rose in the Desert.” Yesenia Ayala and Emilia Suárez as the switched-at-birth daughters brought just the right amount of innocence and warmth to their roles to inspire hope that they would somehow successfully traverse the implosion of their worlds. 

The cast gathers around Sebastian, who lies on a hospital bed.

(from left) Yesenia Ayala as Pilar Esperanza Castillo, James Olivas as Sebastián Jose Castillo, Christopher M. Ramirez as La Gente, Nancy Ticotin as Sister Sonia, and Al Rodrigo as Armando Castillo in Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

Other talented cast members in Destiny of Desire include Julio Agustín and Tito Livas as father/son Dr. Mendozas, Al Rodrigo as affluent patriarch Armando Castillo, Carlos Gomez as Ernesto Del Rio (though understudy Luis Villabon, who is actually listed to cover several other roles in the program, performed it well on the night that I attended), Nancy Ticotin as ever-suffering Sister Sonia, and Ariella Kvashny, Christopher M. Ramirez and Tara Martinez as La Gente/Understudies. All actors are beautifully dressed in a range of costume designs by Karen Perry.

Destiny of Desire appears on a two-story set designed by Rachel Hauck with unmasked wings, balcony, grand staircase, and a mid-stage gap designed to accommodate a variety of roll-on/roll-off doors. Set pieces are seamlessly rotated into and out of the space, transforming downstage into a hospital wing, local park, homely farmhouse kitchen, opulent walk-in closet, penthouse bedroom, and casino floor in turn.

The cast of Destiny of Desire poses midstage behind the Victoria and Pilar.

The cast of Destiny of Desire, 2023. Photo by Jim Cox.

Projections (Hana S. Kim) are used liberally, from the billowing clouds of a thunderstorm cast across an upstage cyc to elaborate textures, patterns, and photo credits appearing on the structural facade. These paired with light effects (Jane Cox) are extremely effective in adding drama to the performance, as is a live, four-piece band situated in the rear of the balcony. Their influence ranges from the sounds of suspense to original tunes that accompany energetic onstage bailes. The sound design by Robert Kaplowitz is tight and intentional, though occasionally the teetering balance between vocalists and band made some of the lyrics difficult to understand; I generally felt that the actors could have been louder (or the band could have been softer) throughout the production.

The bottom line? This clever, tightly-performed dramatic comedy is a triumph for The Old Globe and a tribute to the primetime genre it so lovingly portrays; audiences are bound to be charmed during Destiny of Desire’s six-week run ending June 25.

View the program.

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