When I was a freshman in high school, I starred in my first play, “Our Lady of the Tortilla.” I got to relive the play this past Saturday at the El Paso Playhouse, but this time as an audience member.
Written by Cuban playwright Luis Santeiro, it touches on themes that many El Pasoans can relate to. The comedy follows a Latino family in New Jersey with a central focus on two pairs of siblings who are polar opposites. The devout catholic and seemingly forever-single Dolores Cantú is mousy, humble and thoroughly selfless while sister Dahlia Cruz is a fiery woman who dresses to kill as she tries to win back the heart of her estranged husband, Pancho. While visiting from college, Dahlia’s son Nelson wants to hide every embarrassing aspect of his culture from his girlfriend, Beverly Barnes, including his loud-and-proud, flirtatious brother Eddy. “You Latins sure are huggy!” Beverly says at one point.
All hell breaks loose when Dolores makes tortillas for the first time and sees the Virgin Mary on one of them, unraveling all the Catholic superstition Nelson is trying to keep from the woman he wants to marry.
As someone who aspired to act in film but hadn’t tried her hand at theater, I was in for a major challenge when I took on the role of Dahlia. Dahlia is unapologetic, sexually frustrated and knows how to go after what she wants full force. I, on the other hand, was embarrassed about everything and hadn’t even had my first “real” boyfriend yet. Looking back, everything about that role felt so awkward and unfamiliar, and it showed in my performance.
But that wasn’t the case on Saturday when I watched actress Christina Castanos take on the larger-than-life character. She was spot on with every hip movement, chest puff, shout and sneer at her pure-as-the-driven-snow sister. One should never get in the way of Dahlia, and that message was made clear through Christina’s fun and side-splitting performance.
What’s funny is that Stephen Solis, who played the slick Eddy alongside me in high school, returned to that role for El Paso Playhouse’s production. Solis, as I like to call him, was our high school speech and debate coach, but he also enjoyed performing on top of teaching and managed to master both. His performance was just as lively and comical on Saturday as it was in 2004.
Actress Leslie Horvath brought warmth to the role of Dolores, playing the kind of tia you would reach out to when you’ve had a rough day at work or an argument with your mom or dad. Beverly was also made lovable by actress Kelly Rodriguez, while her co-star Moises Areolla brought out the earnestness and relatable anxiety in Nelson.
Sitting back with a cup of wine (yes, El Paso Playhouse has wine and beer, which is by donation), I truly enjoyed being an audience member this time around. And with a much more adult mind, I could genuinely appreciate the humor and overall themes of the play. It’s full of hilarious lines, such as when Dahlia tells her sister, “You put yourself on a little altar — too high for any man to get on top of you!”
Most importantly, it reminds us that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our culture, because if someone really loves or cares about you, it’s another part of you he or she will embrace. It’s also important to not take ourselves too seriously and to laugh at the quirks and habits of our siblings.
“Our Lady of the Tortilla” will continue to run until October 9. Call your mom, your tia and/or your sibling and take them to the show. I guarantee you two will leave the Playhouse feeling uplifted and even a little closer to each other.