In many families, matrimony requires a verb of motion: You either marry up or marry down. For two generations of the Soto clan, the loudest and angriest Nuyorican household in town, upward mating has brought nothing but acrimony. Héctor (Eddie Marrero) is still smarting from the collapse of his marriage to an uppity Spaniard. His daughter Thanya (Joselyn Mirabal) thinks she’s found her ticket out of the barrio by marrying into a whiter, richer, Spanish family. When Héctor gets fired—by a future in-law—the day before Thanya’s wedding, he flies into a blustery rage, letting loose a lifetime’s worth of pent-up class resentment. In the all-bark, no-bite Chained Dog, the hoity-toity remain offstage, leaving the hoi polloi to play out the culture clash among themselves. The men, of course, are violence-prone anger-management dropouts; the women, in men’s eyes at least, are either repressed stuck-up bitches or cockteasing ‘hos, incomplete unless married and fertile. One might be tempted to dismiss the pimp papi Lindo (Omar Hern) as “a walking cliché” if another character hadn’t already called him just that.
Stereotypes notwithstanding, playwright Rob Santana mines rich comic material here, but he strains to compare the Sotos’ plight with Puerto Rico’s colonial politics. Unlike most stateside Boricuas who shift comfortably between Puerto Rican culture and the American mainstream, his play suffers from a profound identity crisis. It can’t decide if it’s a farce or a melodrama. Under Adri Blanco’s brisk direction, the solid cast punches up every line and elicits enough laughter to drown out some of the less vociferous shouting matches. Too bad about the bathetic soliloquies, though. Saddled with most of these, the formidable Belange Rodr tries her hardest to keep the show from stopping dead cold. Even at top volume, Marrero’s sloppy diction renders his rapid-fire rants unintelligible, almost making this native Spanish speaker wish he had opted for the simultaneous translation via headphones. Still, his Héctor is a marvel of vitriol and lung power, ranging effortlessly from vaudevillian slapstick to kitchen-sink tragedy—think Jackie Gleason playing Willy Loman.