REVIEW: Oakland University’s Multilingual ‘¡Farsa/Farce! (An Affair of International Laughter)’ is Relevant in Any Language

Oakland University Department of Theatre opened its 2023-2024 season with one of the most unique productions in recent memory — ¡Farsa/Farce! (An Affair of International Laughter) which runs now until Oct. 15 in Varner Studio Theatre on the campus of Oakland University (OU).

Directed by David Gram, ¡Farsa/Farce! encompasses two plays. The first is El suplicio del placer (“The Agony of Ecstasy”) by Mexican playwright Sabina Berman, and the second is Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere (“The Virtuous Burglar”) by Italian playwright, Dario Fo. While the performances are predominantly in English, both Spanish and Italian are also spoken. This bold choice proves once again how OU’s theatre department isn’t afraid to push boundaries and ask their audiences to engage on a personal level.

Set in present-day Mexico City, Mexico, The Agony of Ecstasy consists of four short plays, each centering around a woman and man, simply referred to as ‘She’ and ‘He.’ According to Dramaturg/Assistant Director Rachel Sarles, “Each scenario has its own defined world with expectations on gender and sexuality.” But what happens when those roles and rules start to change? Especially, in cultures where they have long been in place. Sarles goes on to say that Berman’s goal was not to lecture to her audience, but rather educate them through humor.

Casey (Ace) Van Dyke as ‘She’ in El Bigote’ (“The Moustache.”
Photo by Crystal Orser
La Casa Chica (“The Love Nest”)

In the first playlet, “The Moustache,” Casey (Ace) Van Dyke (‘She’) and Caleb Korneisel (‘He’) are dressed identically from head to toe. ‘He’ comes across as effeminate, while ‘She’ exudes more of a masculine energy. A moustache shared between them shows the fluidity of their personas and serves as a challenge to societal misconceptions. Playlet two, “The Love Nest,” depicts a married man, Alexander Hernandez (‘He’), and his mistress, DeNetria Gibson (‘She’). By all accounts, Hernandez’s character should be the person with the power. He is wealthy and male, but Gibson’s character is the one in control as we see when she deftly strips ‘He’ of his authority and masculinity. Gibson and Hernandez are to be applauded for the way each brought their characters to life. They were fabulous to watch.

La Pistola (“The Pistol”)

Next, is “The Pistol.” This third playlet has a more serious tone to it as Emily Reschke (‘She’) and Adam Rivera (‘He’) engage in a battle of wits around a firearm. What is real? Who is telling the truth? What happens when we hide our true identities from those closest to us?

The final playlet, “Teeth” was by far my favorite.

Los Dientes (“Teeth”)

While ‘Teeth’ skews toward demented, its absurdity is what makes it delightful and, in my opinion, the strongest example of a farce of the four playlets. Aidan Phillips is delightfully twisted as the ‘Dentist.’ Equally maniacal is Sarita Alvarado in the role of ‘Nurse.’ Both gave extraordinary performances. Their characters take extreme measures to kill the pain of their patient Emma Garrett as the Puppeteer/’Ms. Berman.’ But instead of helping, the mouth endures endless torture, while the pleas from the patient are ignored.

In contrast to Berman’s compartmentalized tales, Darion Fo’s The Virtuous Burglar is a situational farce.

Taking place in Milan, Italy during the ‘60s, Aurora Ave-Lallemant plays a burglar trying to make a living. That is if his wife, played by Katherine Lengyel can leave him alone long enough to steal something in the luxury flat he’s broken into. Before he can get back to business, the burglar is interrupted by the ‘Man’ (Phillip Christiansen) and his mistress ‘Woman’ (Lauren Kreuer) who think the flat is empty. Thus, begins what will be referred to by almost every character at some point as ‘one big misunderstanding.’ Before you know it, Anna (Emily Kloc) arrives unexpectedly to try and catch her husband, the ‘Man’ cheating. Hot on Anna’s trail is her lover Antonio (Pietro Cataldo) who also happens to be the ‘Woman’s’ husband! With the avalanche of misunderstandings and mistaken identities, the burglar comes out looking like the hero of the story while the bourgeois characters deteriorate around him into the scheming hypocrites they truly are. In fact, they are so busy trying to justify their lies that two more burglars (Emma Garrett and Ximena Perez) escape in the confusion.

Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere (“The Virtuous Burglar”)

Gram, also an assistant professor of theatre at OU, says in his program notes that “By employing the structures of farce, the two playwrights seek to engage the audience in laughter, with the goal of producing a cultural dialogue that resonates beyond the final blackout.” And I agree. Since seeing this play, or rather plays, I have been turning them over in my head and studying them from different angles. I always enjoy an entertaining performance, but I also believe that theatre can inform us as well when it comes to our prejudices or blind spots. ¡Farsa/Farce! (An Affair of International Laughter) combines both entertainment and social commentary in a way that is engaging and enlightening. If you are looking to broaden your perspective and have a few laughs along the way, I recommend seeing this play.

This performance has a running time of two hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

TW: Each play explores themes of gender identity, sexual orientation, class disparity, and domestic violence as seen through the lens of Mexican and Italian cultures. There are also loud noises, sounds of gunshots, violence, and more. 

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students. OU students and faculty receive complimentary admission. Tickets can be purchased online at

Due to the nature of the Studio Theatre space, late seating is not permitted for this performance.

For more information about this and other upcoming performances, visit

Performance Schedule

Friday, October 6 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, October 7 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 8 at 2 p.m.

Thursday, October 12 at 8 p.m.

Friday, October 13 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, October 14 at 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 15 at 2 p.m.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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