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Theater Review: 'Manifest Destinitis'

Leave it to Culture Clash’s Herbert Siguenza – an old friend of, and now Playwright-in-Residence at San Diego Repertory Theatre – to put a cockeyed spin on everything he writes or performs.

His latest effort, “Manifest Destinitis,” brings Moliere’s 17th-century comedy “The Imaginary Invalid” home to Alta California in the mid-1800s, where the Mexican residents are fearful that the invading gringos will win the Mexican-American War and take over their land.

This particularly concerns Don Aragon (Mark Pinter), a hypochondriac whose imagined illnesses (called collectively Manifest Destinitis) are costing him too much dinero in doctors’ fees.

His solution: to marry off beautiful daughter Angelica (Jennifer Paredes) to bumbling, leering and thoroughly repulsive Tomas Díaz (Salomon Maya), son of neighboring rancher Don Pedro (John Padilla). Tomas, recently returned from medical studies abroad, will give Don Aragon what he wants – a doctor in the family.

Never mind that Angelica has her heart set on handsome gringo Charlie Sutter (Jacob Caltrider), who speaks perfect Mission Beach but has little to offer the Don in medical services.

On Angelica’s side is crafty maid Tonia (Siguenza), who sees the family rift developing. Comic relief (not that more is needed) is provided by Don Aragon’s other daughter, on-the-hustings lesbian revolutionary Luisa (played to hilarity by Paredes when she’s not playing Angelica).

Roxane Carrasco is both elegant and scheming as Aragon’s wife Belen, who hopes to figure large in the Don’s will so she can go off with boyfriend Robert Mayo (John Padilla).

Siguenza’s sense of humor is goofy, off-center, frankly silly and a bit juvenile at times. Having Paredes play both the beautiful young Angelica and her butch younger sister is one example, but in this case Paredes is so good you can’t help but be charmed.

And if you can  watch the sight gags and go with the flow, you’ll get as much of a kick out of this 90-minute show as I did.

I have always found Moliere’s Don Aragon one of his more annoying characters, but Pinter manages to find a little humanity and make him at least fun to watch.

Caltrider is a hoot as Charlie and hilariously out of place as the wannabe 19th-century surfer boy who steals Angelica’s heart.

Sean Fanning’s sprawling hacienda set, Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ costumes and Lonnie Alcatraz’s lighting are excellent, as are Bruno Louchouarn’s efforts as both sound designer and composer.

It’s a crazy political year. What better than a crazy farcical satire with political overtones?

The details:

“Manifest Destinitis” plays through October 9, 2016 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org