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Arts : Something to chew on 

Anel Flores’s Empanada makes for a juicy TeatroFEST

Ever fantasize about performing cunnilingus while you’re chewing bubble gum?

That was the big question on my mind last Friday as I left the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center’s presentation of Empanada, by Anel I. Flores, a play in which references to delicious food and delicious women are used interchangeably.

Jessica O. Guerrero (left) and Anel I. Flores share a momentin Empanada.

A giant pink POP! and a phone call later, I think I had forever ruined the innocent pleasure of bubble gum for a guy friend of mine.

I knew I was going to like Empanada when an usher gave me a piece of bubble gum just before the play started. Just when I was about to enjoy the sugary pink block, I noticed a message on the wrapper. It said something to the effect of: Do not eat until “Mmm ... chicle!”

“Interactive theatre! Goody!” I thought. (Insert dorky, excited hand-clapping here.) Plus, messages on food are just so Alice in Wonderland.

About halfway through the performance, an actress finally lustily uttered the line “Mmm ... chicle!” I crammed the gum in my mouth, not expecting the spoken-word vignette (with percussion) that would lead me to the aforementioned big question.

Empanada was a mesh of thoughtful, silly, serious, and scared excerpts from Flores’s book-in-progress about the Mexican-American lesbian experience. Four actresses (in a show that was produced entirely by women, down to the lighting and the programs) shared the responsibility of being the narrator, the central voice of the show. The beauty of the 15-vignette play was that its voice was so uniquely San Antonian. When the narrator described her disdain for Alamo Heights’ wheat-tortilla, black-bean bullshit, and her desire for refried beans made “the real way,” she got a mental high-five from me.


8pm Fri-Sat
Through Jun 17

922 San Pedro

Other aspects of the play are more universal. Anyone who’s ever chosen a lifestyle outside the bounds of their childhood faith and longed for a connection with God could empathize with the confessional scenes.

Director Maria A. Ibarra stretches the play-space outside the physical stage, pushing beyond the fourth wall, and far to the left of the seating. Action even occurs in a beautifully choreographed silhouette behind the scrim that composes the back of the stage.

Ibarra’s is an innovative, postmodern interpretation of Empanada. Props serve multiple uses — what was a bongo drum becomes a countertop; a cinder block is also a chair or a confessional.

Apart from one or two mildly clunky transitions, Empanada’s primary shortcoming was that the actors did not appear to be entirely off-book. Perhaps this was a choice made on the part of the director, but it was sometimes awkward — like when two of the performers tried to dance together. I imagined how much more liberated the actors could have been with nothing in their hands.

An old professor of mine relentlessly rants that mainstream theater has been made obsolete by film, and that the only plays still worth producing are the ones that do onstage what cannot be done onscreen. Empanada was just such a play.

No movie has ever ruined gum.

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