At last, Eliana Lopez is telling her side of the story about what happened when her husband, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, was detained in 2012 on domestic violence charges. An actress since age 15 in her native Venezuela, she’s doing it in a bilingual one-woman show called “What Is the Scandal? / ¿Cuál es el Escándalo?” at the Mission Cultural Center.
Full of engaging personal details, it’s interesting and enlightening for locals who couldn’t get enough of the juicy story when it dominated headlines for months. At the same time, those not familiar with the case (did it create such a sensation outside the Bay Area?) may not find the piece as compelling.
Lopez, speaking mostly in Spanish (with English subtitles flashing on a screen behind her), has appealing energy, narrating the tale and portraying its major players — her husband, mom, grandpa and an old friend. The bad guys, Mr. Lie (who has a mustache reminiscent of a certain mayor of San Francisco) and her neighbor, are composites of people and organizations that wreaked havoc on her family during the difficult period.
Written and directed by Lopez’s brother Alfonso, the hourlong show’s best parts are Eliana’s own descriptions of events as she experienced them. It’s satisfying to hear her version of her difficult transition to San Francisco, becoming the wife of a politician and having a baby soon after. She also acts out the heated discussion she had with her husband that led to the bruise on her arm, which was shown in the video that was the catalyst for the criminal accusation. She also clears up confusion about what she told her neighbor who shot the video, who then, Lopez says, betrayed her by bringing it to authorities.
Most of all, she evokes sympathy in communicating her own mounting fear, confusion and inability to deal with the personal and increasingly political situation — some thought it was an attempt by opponents to remove her husband from office — as it spun out of control in the public arena.
Her other characterizations are less successful; the bad guys (particularly the neighbor who calls Latinos “savages”) are one-note, and her allies, while serviceable, aren’t amazing. Lopez wears hats to identify a few people, and dons a pair of glasses and speaks slowly and deliberately as her husband. Very basic production values include an intermittent slide show of pictures that adequately complement the story (though it might be nice to see more).
In the end, “What Is the Scandal?” retroactively provides a fascinating, previously unreported angle to one of The City’s more notorious recent news stories. It may not be enough to give it appeal to audiences not tuned in to “only in San Francisco” politics.
What is the Scandal? / ¿Cuál es el Escándalo?
Where: Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays; closes June 7