Friday February 22 9:52 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

Gorgeous Spectacle in "Another Word for Beauty"

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In Columbia, beauty pageants are a way of life. Apparently the whole culture is obsessed with female perfection. That phenomenon even extends into prison life. For a few days every year, the inmates at a women’s prison compete in an annual beauty pageant. “Another Word for Beauty” is about that pageant.
Since I’m not a fan of beauty pageants, I wasn’t looking forward to watching one in a play. Fortunately, there’s more to “Another Word for Beauty” than just a pageant.

Ciliana (Socorro Santiago), who’d been in El Buen Pastor for 40 years, narrates, introducing us to the various patios (cell blocks), each housing women accused of different types of crimes, and the women who imprisoned there. She also tells us a lot about herself, and why she’s in prison. By the way, Santiago’s other character, the Old Woman, says she’s 60. I have to say that I don’t think 60 is old.

The contestants - Isabelle ( Carmen Zilles), Luzmery (Danaya Esperanza), Xiomara (Helen Cespedes), Yolanda (Stephanie Andrea Barron) and Nora (Zoë Sophia Garcia) are in prison for a variety of reasons, all tragic. Although they know winning the pageant won’t bring freedom, they still have hope.

A contestant can only win for two consecutive years. The previous queen, Jeimi (Yunen Pardo), pageant director and choreographer, serves as MC for the pageant which is to be televised all over Columbia. Guest star, Danny/Maurico/Arturo (Dan Domingues), asks the final questions (all written by the warden, Marilin/Magnolia (Monique Curnen).

In contrast to the patios, the pageant is a gorgeous spectacle. The contestants enter for the first time riding on sparkling, colorful floats reminiscent of Carnivale. Their sequin-covered costumes and evening gowns are bright and extravagant.

“Another Word for Beauty” is a play with music, not a musical. The songs, which are sung in Spanish, with words projected behind the actors, are very simple and repetitive. A good friend who saw the play thought the lyrics weren’t very well written. He thought the choruses were too simple, didn’t make sense and didn’t even rhyme. I’ve seen English translations of lyrics written in Chinese and other languages, and those were also too simple, didn’t make a lot of sense and didn’t rhyme. I thought maybe the lyrics were supposed to have been written by the inmates.

“Another Word for Beauty” runs through February 21st in the Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes including an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8:00; Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00; and Sundays at 2:00. Tickets range from $25-$75. Parking is available at a slightly reduced rate in the Government Center Garage (with a validation) or you can take advantage of the new online payment option: payment in advance is just $16.00. FYI (312) 443-3800 or www.goodmantheatre.org.