Touted as a play, foreign film, epic history and Latin-style soap opera all in one, ¡El Conquistador! sounds like it might make a fascinating piece… or a dismal mess. Happily, it’s actually a cheeky, hilarious and exquisitely wrought labor of love. Performed in Spanish (with surtitles for your pleasure), the brainchild of Thaddeus Phillips, Tatiana Mallarino and Victor Mallarino seamlessly fuses its splashy elements through the magic of a perfectly integrated video screen backdrop. Starring the dazzling, affable Phillips and a slew of Latin American television stars (who make their scintillating appearances via said screen), ¡El Conquistador! is the story of Polonio — an earnest Colombian farmer who heads to the big city to fulfill his dream of starring in his beloved telenovelas. Along the way, he becomes a befuddled doorman at a posh highrise and bravely navigates the rollicking and sometimes murky waters of a life spent catering to pampered, eccentric tenants who can’t seem to stop kissing him through their video phones. Unrequited love, a mysterious parcel, and lots of Pony Malta soda ensue.
Non-Spanish speakers will inevitably miss the cultural references and spastic little asides that don’t make it into the surtitles (not to mention the hilarity of Polonio’s perfectly timed impassioned shouts of “puta!”) but you sure don’t have to be Latino to savor a drama involving revenge, historical allegory and long-lost twins. Its whimsical heart alone makes ¡El Conquistador! worth watching, but the brilliant visual execution truly makes it a masterpiece