The Latino Comedy-Drama Cebollas is now currently on stage at the Singleton Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. This play centers on New Mexican and Burqueño culture and stemmed from a moment when the playright Leonard Madrid asked himself “Where are the Latino Comedies?” Cebollas was developed at the Denver Center Theatre Company’s 2022 Colorado New Play Summit. It took 2 years for this play to become a full production – a quick turnaround in the lifecycle of plays, usually taking 6-7 years! This is The Denver Center Theater Company’s World Premiere, running now through March 17.

When first I saw the play come up on my feed, I was immediately interested and intrigued. First of all, the name was an eye catch – cebollas=onions? I had to know more. Next, I learned it was an all-women, all-Latina cast playing sisters. I come from una familia Latina and have a sister of my own, so I could immediately relate. I could already hear the witty one-liners and laughs had between them. Then it was the premise of the play that sold me.

It is about three sisters forced to take an unexpected trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Denver, Colorado. The Tag Line: 3 sisters, 4 wheels, 400 miles, and one dead body… That’s a lot of time to really unpack. It is also a lot of time to familiarize yourself with the dynamic of these three actors playing the role of siblings:

Tere, the oldest, is played by Zuleyma Geuvara
Celia, the middle, is played by Xochitl Romero
And Yolie, the youngest, is played by Jamie Ann Romero

I got to see the play and it not only met, but exceeded my expectations! And let me tell you, I was already so excited. First I did my research, and to my surprise they made it a really unique experience! The culture of New Mexico is very prominent in Cebollas. On the show’s page, I found an online study guide which had an additional interview with the writer (fascinating and relatable) and it included some New Mexico homework like a PBS special and a Spanish word and regional terms glossary which I loved. The inclusivity is nice because these were places that I had never been to and culture I had not yet experienced but was so rooted in the main characters.

Then I got to chat with 2 out of 3 of the actors. Zuleyma Geuvara and Xochitl Romero were so nice! I could feel their connection both to the story and to each other. They took a lot of pride in what the play meant – how it opened doors, inviting the audience along the journey and into the culture… how it broke down barriers, with an all-women, Latina cast of varying skin tones reflecting most Latin families… and how it brought joy in what can be a very complicated world we live in. Below is the conversation we had!

I went on a Friday night and was immediately sucked right in. Walking down the stairs, you are met with a lobby display which helps to familiarize audience with the actors, New Mexico’s unique culture, and just general road-trip fun. There were some cute interactive prompts for audience, it felt much like pinning your card to a diner’s bulletin board. The theater itself is so intimate – Zuleyma and Xochitl were right, front row is almost right on the stage with them! The design was minimal in the best way and very intentional. It made the space feel so fluid and ever-changing, much like the scenery of the road trip we were about to embark on. The centerpiece was the frame of a car surrounded by a few of the mini-sets or stops along the way. There was a cool insider fact I came across when reading up on the play: To really create the sense of motion and travel, projections were used around the car. This was actual footage of a trip that designer Alex Basco Koch and assistant made from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Denver, Colorado – such a neat touch! And of course the dummy, which was animated from time to time by the very much living cast.

Now I am not going to spoil the story for you, but let’s just say this is where the show’s title comes into play. Families, much like onions, have layers. As the story unfolds, you learn more and more about their past, and about them. Their dynamic is fun but real. One minute they are picking on each other, laughing. But then the banter takes a more serious turn and you feel like they are hitting something much deeper. The three sisters are very different and their roles became clearer and clearer as the miles pass. Sometimes, it takes a good long trip to reach a breakthrough – You get the pace to think, the time to get into it, and the encouragement to move forward just like the car beneath you.

Like all great and memorable trips, it is about the journey much more than the destination. Walking out of the theater, I truly felt each turn from the journey. I felt transported to a world that I knew wasn’t my own but yet it felt so familiar. Zuleyma Geuvara, Xochitl Romero, and Jamie Ann Romero put to much soul into this play, it was a joy to watch them interact and prevail. I felt that connection between the characters and that made me feel so engaged with the storyline. And the whole audience was feeling it, you could tell. We felt as if we arrived. At it’s core, this play is about family and self discovery.

Cebollas is on stage at the Singleton Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts now through March 17. For more information and to dig in like I did, you can visit their website.

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Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Denver Center for the Performing Arts

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