From left, Angelica Beliard, Zachary Infante, Yani Marin, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Chad Carstarphen, Joél Pérez, Jesús E. Martínez, Desiree Rodriguez, KC de la Cruz and Richard Henry Ruiz appear in in “Kiss My Aztec!” at Berkeley Rep. (Courtesy Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

‘Kiss My Aztec’ turns the historical hysterical

Berkeley Rep Mesoamerica-set premiere cheerily takes on colonialism

“Kiss My Aztec!” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre eschews any hint of dreary polemics on the evils of colonialism. Instead, it proposes a warmer, wackier side to a dark chapter of history, courtesy of a highly irreverent script by Tony Taccone and John Leguizamo, and made to sing by composer-lyricist Benjamin Velez collaborating with Leguizamo and David Kamp.

Set in 16th century Mesoamerica, the Spanish are squatting on the indigenous people, stealing their gold and infecting them with STDs, but a resistance is brewing amongst a plucky band of Aztecs relying on ancient prophesies to lead them to victory.

The production embraces a socially, culturally and historically woke view, but it does so with a clear affection for the “Animal House” and “Monty Python” school of comedy. (Just when you think, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” — there they are, in a funny walk and a bit of soft shoe!)

It’s musical theater tapas — the food is an actual sight gag — serving up small plates of “Hamilton,” “Something Rotten” “Head Over Heels” and more in a paella of music styles from hip-hop to rap, with a big side of salsa, and all in constant motion thanks to Maija García’s crackling choreography.

Themes of racism, genocide, gender inequity, religious feudalism and even homophobia are all present. They’re just soft-pedaled with puerile humor, sight gags, romantic entanglements and a lot of winking topical references that may come back to haunt future productions. (The faux Elizabethan linguistics also get tiresome quickly.)

Taccone, in his final production as artistic director, referees a tight ensemble of talented clowns, most of whom get spotlight moments. Richard Henry Ruiz generates freewheeling mayhem as the coca-addled political fixer Pierre Pierrot, and Zachary Infante spins fawning obsequiousness into seething comic gold as the scheming prince Fernando.

Desiree Rodriguez aces the comic voluptuary as a willful, waiting-to-be-ruined princess Pilar, and Al Rodrigo channels Harvey Korman-grade self-delusional swagger as her viceroy father, who relentlessly misnames Maria-Christina Oliveros as Tolima, the salty seer with wonderfully deadpan timing.

In the romantic spotlight, Joél Pérez charms completely as sock-puppeteer Pepe, the “Punk Ass Geek-a” enamored of aspiring warrior woman Yani Marin as Colombina.

The show opens with a song listing the travails that frequently follow the arrival of “White People on Boats” and ends with the refrain “Welcome to the future! The world is getting browner!”

In between, it uses the universal balm of laughter to make its points as a sassy, rollicking, take-no-prisoners, equal-opportunity entertainment.

REVIEW

Kiss My Aztec!

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Where: Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 14

Tickets: $60 to $115

Contact: (510) 647–2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

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