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FRONT ROW CENTER
By Michael Warren
Our Lady Of The Tortilla
By Luis Santeiro
Directed by Sally Jo Bartlett
This season’s kick-off play, Our Lady of the Tortilla, is a wacky mix of comedy and family confusion. Playwright Luis Santeiro based his script on the true story of a New Mexican woman who saw Christ’s image in a freshly baked tortilla. Here the setting is New Jersey and the image is of the Blessed Virgin, and we are invited into the living-room of the dysfunctional Cruz family. Sally Jo Bartlett has succeeded in assembling a Mexican/ American cast who are able to give the play a genuine Hispanic flavor.
Unfortunately, some of the dialogue is lost because of accent and pronunciation, or because it is delivered while turning away from the audience.
Amaranta Santos is delightful as the pious unmarried “Dolores” – she cooks mounds of tortillas, and prays to a dead actor to help her find lost objects. She is on stage for most of the play, and acts as a foil to the rest of this crazy family. Lara Gallardo – a newcomer to the LLT stage – delivers her one-line zingers with terrific flair and struts her stuff as the sexy mother of the family “Dahlia Cruz,” while her sons “Nelson” and “Eddy” are capably played by Joel Gomez and Zane Pumiglia. The relationships are a bit of a stretch, as Dahlia looks younger than her sons – we can only suppose that she was a child bride, and that her sons have been weaned on beer and tortillas.
Joel Gomez – also a newcomer to the LLT stage – plays Nelson as an innocent and bewildered young man half-way between two cultures. He is embarrassed by his family and the excess of loopy decorations – plastic cacti, plaster saints, cheap pictures of the Virgin – that fill the living room. He has a WASP girlfriend “Beverly” (played by Denae Dobko) who actually likes all the Hispanic stuff, so his fears are unfounded. It’s sad that he insists on apologizing for his lively family. Denae Dobko is sweet as the enthusiastic girlfriend, and delivers her lines with great energy.
Meanwhile Zane Pumiglia has fun playing Eddy, the tough elder son who has a girl outside, apparently sleeping in his truck. We don’t actually see Kathleen Morris as Eddy’s girl “Valerie,” but we can certainly hear her yelling from outside, probably for more beer. As it turns out, the miracle of the Virgin in the tortilla is not a major feature of the play. Instead, it’s an uplifting element in the general confusion of this wacky family – and of course a vindication of the devotion personified so well by Amaranta Santos in her role as Dahlia’s sister Dolores. The play is not exactly a comedy, though it has some comic moments. Perhaps it says something about the power of prayer.
Sally Jo Bartlett has successfully brought a challenging play to the stage, with a cast that had some rough edges at the beginning. But there was a lot of energy onstage, and the audience certainly enjoyed themselves. I should also mention the amazing set, designed by Graham Miller and decorated by Roberta Hilleman. Thank you to Sally Jo and to Stage Manager Jerry McDonald, and to all who contributed to this lively production.
Next up is (as they say in Monty Python’s Flying Circus) something completely different – Blithe Spirit – a sophisticated comedy by Noel Coward. The spirits will be summoned in November – the play opens on November 6.