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Familia is basis of comedy in ‘Tortilla’

Rodey production plays on local flavor to drive story of cultures colliding

So you think your family’s weird, eh? Well, check out Nelson Cruz’s. Though this college graduate himself seems laidback enough and at least mostly sane, the “Our Lady of the Tortilla” protagonist’s genetic pool is another matter altogether.

First, there’s his mother, Dahlia. She’s one young-thinking thing facing an unwanted annulment from her husband of 21 years to go through, and crackling with, nervous energy fueled by a 300-horsepower attitude. Hey, you’d have a chip on the shoulder if you were a toilet-seat salesman, too.

Brother Eddie is this lot’s schemer. You know the type: always talking up a huge plan — always broke. As for his girlfriend she can, and does, wait in the van outside while he’s visiting with family — for 24 hours.

Rounding out the list is Dahlia’s sister Delores, a.k.a. “Tia.” She’s of the religious variety — we’re talking nun-level religiousness here. How religious is she? Well, for example, when a neighbor suckers her into making 1,000 tortillas, she says yes, musing “maybe God has a reason for me to make tortillas.”

That’s not that religious, you say? OK, how about her appeals to a soul in purgatory to find her nephew’s lost thesis? No? Well, there’s also the matter of her ability to smell visiting representatives of the spirit world. And before you can say, “®Donde esta la tortilla?” she’s talking to the titular object.

This group is the genetic pool into which Nelson wishes to throw his prospective fiancÇe, Beverly, over the two acts’ worth of “Our Lady of the Tortilla.” Tia better pray she remembers her lifejacket, for this sweet girl so excited to be in Albuquerque has no idea what she’s getting into.

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Sure, Nelson tries the all-typical tricks of the theatrical trade to cover his family’s multi-varied tweaks, but to do so properly, he’d need a tarp as large as Santa Fe. Throughout the comedy, he suffers the usual frustrations of such a character: When one hole in Oddity Dike is plugged, another bursts forth with a further bizarre situation.

“Our Lady of the Tortilla” is a localized version of a New Jersey-based play and, thanks to a few well-placed references — would the Alibi really be hot to cover the story of a holy hunk of bread? — and great dollops of New Mexican-like characters, it is hard to imagine it elsewhere.

The troupe does a decent job here with what is a slightly fluffy script. Much of the dramatic onus falls on Diana Martinez-Marr as Delores, who gives a highly sympathetic performance.

Also notable is Kathy Chavez as Dahlia. If Chavez can maintain the astonishing levels of energy required to play the role — and if she doesn’t break her neck falling from those two-foot-tall high heels — this character steals the show whenever she speaks. And boy, can she speak.

“Our Lady” is lighter fare with happy ending guaranteed. Thankfully, this version is done well enough so that we don’t mistake the tortilla for the cheese and by closing-curtain time we do care for these characters, tweaks and all.

“Our Lady of the Tortilla” opens at Rodey Theater in the Center for the Arts tomorrow and runs until Oct. 6. For more information, call 277-4569.

≠Buen apetito!

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