Our Lady of the Tortilla Review

If Lucille Ball had graced pop culture with an episode of I Love Lucy where she meets Desi’s mother and extended family for the first time, I am fairly certain it would look a lot like Luis Santeiro’s play Our Lady of the Tortilla, now at El Paso Playhouse.  A charming mix of expectations, tradition, generosity and humor,Our Lady of the Tortilla is another can’t miss at El Paso’s longest running theater company.

Despite the spotlight on many aspects of Latin culture, people from almost any background will recognize the dynamics played out on stage in the Cantú/Cruz household, set in New Jersey in the 1980s.  Dolores Cantú (LESLIE HORVATH) exudes a game-show contestant level of enthusiasm and joy while her sister Dahlia Cruz (CHRISTINA CASTANOS) maintains a romantic sort of cynicism as sharp as the line of her electric blue eyeshadow.  Dahlia’s son Nelson (MOISES AREOLLA), home from college with his new girlfriend in tow, fervently hopes to keep the lies he’s told her to soften his family’s eccentric edges straight and perhaps escape the shadow of his snappy, engaging older brother Eddy (STEPHEN SOLIS).  For her part, girlfriend Beverly Barnes (KELLY RODRIGUEZ) imparts the exceedingly polite, slightly desperate face known to all significant others who have ever experienced the “meet the family” weekend. 

Under the hand of director EURYDICE SAUCEDO and dedicated in part to her grandmother, Tortilla manages to take the complicated themes of family, faith and the “American Dream,” spice it with some slapstick and perform a comedy with enough conflict to keep it fresh and enough heart to keep it hopeful.  The packed house at my Sunday matinée would agree, no matter whose face may appear in your tortilla, the love between family is the real miracle.

 

OUR LADY OF THE TORTILLA plays FRIDAY October 7, SATURDAY October 8 and closes SUNDAY October 9.  Please call 915- 532-1317 or visit www.elpasoplayhouse.com for more information. 

Guest Reviewer 

Kaylan Brett

Kaylan is an East Coast native who's been stationed all over the country with her husband, a Company Commander with the 1st Armored Division.  She graduated from Boston University in 2007 and has appeared in the student-centered soap opera Bay State as Callie Peyser, the Manhattan KS Arts Center production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as Hermia and a LondonTV short advising American tourists not to get into unmarked vehicles claiming to be cabs, an issue that remains near and dear to her heart. 

Kaylan is an East Coast native who's been stationed all over the country with her husband, a Company Commander with the 1st Armored Division.  She graduated from Boston University in 2007 and has appeared in the student-centered soap opera Bay State as Callie Peyser, the Manhattan KS Arts Center production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as Hermia and a LondonTV short advising American tourists not to get into unmarked vehicles claiming to be cabs, an issue that remains near and dear to her heart. 

 

How Community Theatre Can (and Should) Be As Relevant As Broadway

 

June 03, 2016

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist
  • Twitter: @A_J_Piccione

Those of you just reading the title of this column may consider this to be a bold statement, if not an outright ridiculous one. After all, how can local community theatre compare to what they do in New York City? Isn’t Broadway supposedly the pinnacle of great American theatre? Especially with great shows like Hamilton currently being all the talk of the town, is there any real comparison between the two?

The quick answer to that question is…yes and no. If you read on, you’ll see what I mean when I say that, and what I mean when I say – as crazy as it might sound –that local community theatre has the potential to be just as relevant as Broadway ever will be, in terms of the role it plays in society and in people’s lives.

It Isn’t Yet

First, let me just put a bit of emphasis on the word “can”. I am not stating that community theatre is more influential in society than Broadway theatre. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love community theatre. I love many of the people that I’ve met in community theatre. I am proud of the work I’ve done in community theatre. Having said that, to say that we are currently having more of an impact on society or culture than Broadway would be foolish.

If anyone reading this doesn’t believe me, just take a look at most of the non-theatre people that are in your life. If you personally know someone who loves talking about community theatre, it is most likely because they are involved in community theatre themselves, or because they have a close friend or family member who is. There doesn’t seem to be many people who get hyped up about what goes on in community theatre, but if they are, those are usually the main reasons why they are. I’m not saying that I necessarily like it. As many of us already know too well, that’s just the reality of the world that we live in.

On the other hand, whenever any sort of reference to modern or contemporary theatre is made in pop culture, it refers to just a handful of the biggest shows on Broadway over the past two or three decades, such as The Lion King, Rent, The Book of Mormon, and most recently, Hamilton. Sadly, even this isn’t enough to demonstrate that theatre is as relevant in today’s pop culture as other art forms, such as film or music. (That’s another discussion for another day.) However, it still shows how a small number of big productions get far more attention than local, more accessible theatre tends to receive.

Why It Should Be

I personally can’t help but think about exactly why it is this way, when I believe it shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t have to travel to New York City to say you’ve seen great theatre anymore than you should have to travel to Los Angeles to say you’ve seen great cinema. The fact of the matter is that no matter where you live, more people have access to their local theatre organizations than they may ever have to the big shows that you see on Broadway. 

Personally, I have seen a fair amount of examples of great local theatre that is, by any objective measure, a truly great live experience for audiences to enjoy. A few of these past productions that I speak of come close to being of the same caliber of many shows in New York, albeit in venues that are often smaller. The only reason they aren’t always better, one could argue, is because not enough people think highly enough of community theatre to provide sufficient funding to put on bigger and better shows.

I’ve heard many people – including on this blog – talk about how the future of theatre lies in live-streaming of Broadway shows, and how more people can access theatre through television or the internet. I am always baffled by this, and it almost feels as if they are taking away a big part of what makes theatre so special, as an art form. When you take away the excitement of a live performance happening right before your eyes, what makes theatre any different from film or television?

This is why I believe that rather than find new ways to stream Broadway productions that many people might never get to see in person, the focus ought to be on doing more to both improve and promote live theatre in our own communities, and using that as the primary means of promoting both shows that originally appeared on Broadway that people otherwise might not get to see, as well as newer shows.

On that note, I also believe that in community theatre, there is more of an opportunity for new writers, directors and performers to take the lead in shaping the future direction of theatre, in a way that could help make 21st century theatre, generally speaking, more popular and relevant than it has ever been in society in recent years. 

Many people like to talk about the future of theatre, and how we can make even the smallest improvements to make theatre better for both artists and audience members. One idea I’ve always had is producing more new, diverse works of theatre, as opposed to producing the same shows over and over again. (Full disclosure: As a playwright, I’ll admit to having some personal reasons for wanting this, but I do genuinely want it for other playwrights, as well.) That’s not to say that the classic shows that originally appeared on Broadway should never be produced again, but producing just as many newer works might not be such a bad idea, both for artists craving to get their work out into the world, as well as for some audience members for whom classic Broadway musicals might not be their cup of tea.

So whether it’s to have the chance to see something brand new, or to experience a live show that one might not have been able to see live in New York, these are just two primary reasons that community theatre ought to be more popular, and why it is not to be overlooked by those thinking about how to expand access to theatre in our communities.

How It Can Be

As I’m writing this column, I can already hear some of the arguments that all of this talk is naïve, and there isn’t much to be done to attract more attention to community theatre. After all, they haven’t been coming to see our shows now. Why should I expect that to change any time soon? What can possibly be done that isn’t already being done to attract big crowds? 

Based on my own past experiences, I can say that this attitude couldn’t be further from the truth. As I’ve said before in my past column “More Colleges Should Be Producing New Plays”, I’ve had one of my own short plays produced while I was in college, as part of an event that was not only sold out, but was standing-room only. I’ve also been part of many other events involving new plays – which are much lesser-known than the shows that most community theaters put on – which also had attendance levels that came close to the number of that event. Needless to say, this was largely because of an excellent effort to spread the word about these events, which seems to largely invalidate the argument made that people won’t go to see them simply because they aren’t always well-known shows or organizations. 

This is why I will say that, especially in cases such as this, the need for great marketing is stronger than ever. 

For as long as I’ve been in theatre, I’ve understood how important it is for any show at any theater to have a strong marketing campaign, which can help get the word out and sell tickets. This isn’t to say that many theaters aren’t already trying their best to get the word out, when it comes to their productions. However, I have to admit, it feels almost as if certain local theaters aren’t always doing enough. To fix this issue, one way might be for ALL theaters to up their game, and do more to promote the great work we do in the theatre community to others, and make sure we reach as many potential theatergoers as we can.

My hope is that if we can get more people to acknowledge and pay attention to what was going on in local theatre, as well as all the possibilities that theatre at the local level potentially has to offer, then over time, any theatre talk that goes on in our society would be just as much about what’s going on at their local theatre organization as it would be about what’s going on in New York.

And of course, while we’re talking about being able to produce bigger community shows and launching an effective marketing campaign, this is yet another reason why public officials need to BOOST ARTS FUNDING NOW.

Some Closing Thoughts

I’ve said this before in past columns, and I’ll say it again in this column: live productions should be the place where people get to experience great theatre, not in front of a screen. As I said previously, I’ve seen plenty of local theaters right here in Connecticut that come remarkably close to replicating the original production of the show that they are producing, and if they had more financial resources, they could very well come even closer. I hope more people outside of the usual theatre community start to eventually see this, at some point. If they did, then maybe – just MAYBE – as community theatre starts to get more positive attention, this will also lead to more funding to put on bigger and better productions of these older shows, as well as some newer shows that have never been produced before. Wouldn’t that be nice? 

If these things were to become a reality –better marketing, more awareness, more different types of shows, and yes, more funding – than I do truly believe that community theatre has the potential to be perceived by society as more significant and relevant than ever, as people will always have more access to the productions in their own towns and cities than they will likely have to the shows in New York. I have no idea if or when this will ever happen. However, in an ideal world – and as someone who loves the arts and cares about the future of theatre, I say it’s my job to be an idealist – this is exactly how it would be. The more people go to support their local theatre organizations, the more those of us who are involved in theatre – whether it is as an actor, director, playwright, technician, designer, or audience member – will benefit, as a whole.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione)

Closing our 52nd season with some Shakespeare Inspiration.

So much going on and so little time so I'll get right down to it!

We've come to the final production of the 52nd Season with the original piece written by Adam Dever and directed by Vanessa Keyser (husband and wife team) titled "R & J." It's very loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet where the show takes place in a high school that is peforming the play Romeo and Juliet. The twist comes where the two main characters are BOTH transgender and unfortunately, due to intolerance and unacceptance, ends in tragedy.

For a long time, the Playhouse had stayed away from more controversial pieces, but this time we decided to take a bold step. Theater is in the business of telling stories; some are funny, some are sad. This story could be ripped from the headlines of today's news where people are being bullied or killed for who they are. Theater is also art and we hope that this story as with any other will inspire people to think differently and walk away with a better idea of what others who are not like them endure. This is perhaps not the easiest show to watch, but the young adults who put their time and talents to present it should be appaulded for their efforts and guts in bringing it to you. We invite you come see it and come with open hearts and minds. Theres is this disclaimer: This show contains adult language, violence and some situations not suitable for children or those easily offended.


As this season comes to a close we will open the 53rd season with Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf. School is out and summer will kick in, so we hope you make plans in your summer schedule to join us. I'll share more information about our events for the upcoming season.

Finally, as a testament to the successful season we've had, we are proud to have been nominated for Best of the Best run by What's Up El Paso. We were nominated for:

Best Local Nonprofit

Best Website

Best Place to Take a Date

Best Local Monument/Landmark

Best Production - "Steel Magnolias" Director Veronica Frescas

Best Production - "It's a Wonderful Life" Director Eurydice Saucedo

Best Production - "Normal Heart" Director Alex Wright
 

As far as we're concerned, ALL of our productions were the "BEST OF" however, we thank you who nominated us in these categories. We're very honored to have been nominated and we hope to see you out at the party tonight at 208 N. Octavia (May 18) to cast your votes.


See you at the Playhouse!

Veronica Frescas - President
El Paso Playhouse

     

Art as an Expression

ART AS AN EXPRESSION By Mario Rodriguez-Alvarado
There is no denying that art is important; be it theatre, film, music, drawing, painting, poetry, sculpting, etc. It is a necessity in life. Art is the perfect way to express yourself, to take advantage of your talent and share it with the world. In a world busy with technology, work, school and a million other things, it’s hard to take the time to appreciate the smallest of details. Take the time to look around you...walk down the street and notice the art on the brick buildings, the flyers posted on windows, the music playing from a cafe patio. It’s all art...alive and well, but under-appreciated and taken for granted.
Here at the Playhouse, we try to provide a platform for artists of all walks of life, talents, backgrounds and personalities. We take pride in working hard to provide quality entertainment via live performances. But we also try to feature artwork from local artists, perform plays written by local playwrights, welcome musicians to come and perform before a show or during intermission...we are a member of the art community and feel it is our responsibility to help artists who need a place to shine.
We are about to close our comedy “Charley’s Aunt”, directed by El Paso theatre legend, Hector Serrano. He has been a part of Playhouse productions as an actor, he has used our venue to perform his own plays, but this is the first time in his 50 years at the Playhouse, that he directs an actual Playhouse production...and we could not be any happier or more proud of this.
Coming up next is the last show of our season, “R & J: Romeo and Juliet”. The show was written by El Pasoan, Adam Dever and was inspired by William Shakespeare’s masterpiece. However, there is a twist to it. This production deals heavily with LGBTQ issues. Inequality has been an issue over the past few years, an issue that has raised awareness, as well as criticism and controversy. With Hollywood people such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, the topic of gender-identity and confusion is everywhere. The transgender community is, at last, getting the attention they have so desperately sought for decades. Our closing production deals heavily with the issues facing young transgender people today. How society will see them or accept them, how injustice, inequality and lack of acceptance are major topics.
This is a very special show...it is something that has not been done at the Playhouse since I started 12 years ago. It deals with delicate topics, but it is something we need to do. Theatre, like film, is important. It provides us a platform to talk about issues that, at times, no one else wants to talk about. When AIDS was starting and no one wanted to talk about it, film and theatre shined a light on it. Racism, segregation, equal rights, interracial marriages...all these are things that the world wasn’t ready to talk about...but were performed and sung about. That is the magic of art, that you can use it to shine a light on what really matters, on what people don’t want to talk about.
The Playhouse is ready to take this big step, this leap into the 21st century. Why? Because we care about the community and feel it is our obligation and sheer pleasure to cross those boundaries and shine a light on what really matters. Vanessa Keyser, who is directing this production, has an amazing cast who has put in their heart and soul not only into their characters, but the actual script. It is a labor of love and a true testament that art knows no boundaries, that no matter what is happening in the world, art will be there to be a beacon to those who are lost or feel left behind in the dark.
This is our way of saying THANK YOU to the world, to you, to life. This show deals with strong themes, contains strong language, violence and is not suitable for young children or those who are easily offended. But it is imperative that we get out there and try to leave our small mark.
It is the end of our 2015-2016 season, and we have so much in store for you! Our next season is right around the corner and we are not only thrilled, but beyond proud of the hard work our volunteers, board members, staff and patrons have put in to make this such a success.
We thank you and we hope to see you at the Playhouse!