It’s good, finally, to laugh, know what I mean? Eduardo Rovner’s Volvió una Noche (She Returned One Night) provides a welcome tonic, with its magic-realist tale of Fanny, a Jewish mother come back from the dead when she learns that her son Manuel plans to get married. Seen only by him, and aided by an equally invisible verse-declaiming gaucho, she resumes her role as protective and guilt-inducing mommy, desirous of making sure that Dolly, her prospective daughter-in-law, will love, honor, and oyvey Manuel. Too bad Dolly is not only a widow but, dios mio, a Catholic. Compounding Fanny’s distress, Manuel has been pretending to be a doctor and classical violinist. In fact, he earns his living as a pedestrian pedicurist. Fanny moans, “I wanted the world at your feet rather than you at the feet of the world.”
With an irony that resonates in the aftermath of bloody September, this Repertorio Español comedy portrays a life of the dead that seems as mundane as that of the living. For instance, a lot of theater exists in the afterlife (though little life can be seen in today’s theater), a favorite play being The Arrival of a Salesman. Director Alejandro Samek expertly mines the work’s rich sitcom material. At the same time he mixes in darker inflections: the subliminal mother-son attraction; the barnacle-hold of the past; and that tension familiar to Americans, whether North or South, between Old World (in this case Jewish) and New World identities.
As the dead materfamilias, Lilian Olhagaray is by turns convincingly domineering and sweet, while Daniel Marcove as the living son displays a hilarious, mournful Woody Allen-esque persona. Watching a play and a cast that so knows and enjoys what it’s doing is akin to the familiar and comforting pleasure of a tasty knish.