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THEATER REVIEW / 'OUR LADY OF THE TORTILLA' : Comedy Takes Serious Look at Faith, Miracles : Plaza Players present a strong production about a family trying to assimilate into mainstream society.

September 30, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a deeply religious New Jersey woman sees the face of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla, it's either a headline in the Weekly World News or a play by prize-winning author Luis Santerio.

For the tabloids, you will still have to stand in your local supermarket checkout line. The play--first produced at New York City's Hispanic Art Center in 1987--can be seen Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Plaza Players Theater in Ventura.

The action takes place entirely in the house occupied by Dahlia Cruz, her sons, Nelson and Eddy (maybe she was a fan of operettas), and her sister, their aunt, Dolores.

Dahlia and the boys are trying to assimilate into mainstream society--when Eddy's Anglo girlfriend, Beverly, is set to visit him at home, he hides all the folkloric knickknacks and tries to convince her that some tortillas are "crepes."

Dolores, though, is more tied into the old ways; she's the one who places various religious icons and votive candles around the house. And, of course, it's Dolores who spots the Virgin Mary.

Initially, her family is embarrassed, but then elder son Eddy, something of a promoter, sees his own vision: opportunity. Before the play is over, a number of changes have been wrought, and what began as a broad comedy includes a subtextual and somewhat more serious examination of faith and what constitutes a miracle, which adds to the play's depth without detracting from its effectiveness as a comedy.

Director Christina Aerenlund, a veteran of the Cabrillo Music Theatre and the Spanish-language Teatro de las Americas, is a welcome newcomer to the Plaza Players. Faced with a mid-rehearsal cast change, she and her troupe acquit themselves well, if not always splendidly.

Irma Stewart is very strong as Dolores, with Olivia Obregon equally convincing as the bright, ambitious Dahlia--with an almost caricatured Puerto Rican accent.

Armando Ramariz and Ariel Aquino seemed somewhat nervous at Saturday's opening, but were fine as Eddy and Nelson. Kelly Michele handled the part of Eddy's girlfriend, Beverly, quite well. (Patricia Casiano rounds off the cast as the offstage voice of Nelson's girlfriend, Valerie).

The play is entirely in English, though some of the actors' accents are a bit thick from time to time.

Steve Aguilar has designed a pleasant household for the Cruz family, and somebody--Ruth Smith is credited with "props"--has come up with an intriguing assortment of decorative items.

Not a raging success, "Our Lady of the Tortilla" is quite watchable, frequently fun, and provides an interesting reflection of one segment of an ethnic group sadly ignored by the American theater.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Our Lady of the Tortilla" continues through Oct. 30 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St. (in the Old Town Livery courtyard), Ventura. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 Wednesdays, $9 Fridays and $10 on Saturdays. For reservations or further information, call 643-9460.

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