Sunday, February 25, 2024

Three Latina sisters take a wild road trip in new dramatic comedy at Denver Center

Poor Mitchell. He sits in an overstuffed chair in Albuquerque, New Mexico, looking a little sallow and slightly dead. And her stiff body (but not too stiff) will be the target of many gags in “Cebollas” by Leonard Madrid, about three sisters on an absurd but vital mission.

From left: Zuleyma Guevara, Jamie Ann Romero and Xochitl Romero bring sisterly drama and laughs to Leonard Madrid’s “Cebollas.” (Jamie Krause Photography, provided by Denver Center)

The comedy-drama’s warm, emotionally attuned ensemble serves its comedic beats about Latin American sisters and families well. Jamie Ann Romero plays Yolie, the woman who had an affair with the unfortunately deceased (and married) Mitch. Zuleyma Guervara and Xochitl Romero play her older sisters, Tere and Celia.

More discouraged than bereaved, Yolie called Célia, a nurse, for help. Did we mention that Yolie is very pregnant, leaning back to look for a seat? This is why Célia answers Yolie’s phone call with such attentive speed. Older sister Tere is called soon after Celia, shopping in hand to help her – with a birth she assumed, not a death. Neither knew about Mitch and their sister.

Tere’s arrival clarifies the rules of their birth order. Tere is the quickest to judge. Yolie is the youngest, often irresponsible. The middle sister Celia acts as negotiator, interpreter and conciliator between the two. As the play progresses, their understanding of each person’s place in the family will deepen, largely thanks to Celia, whose practical wisdom and kindness Xochitl Romero charmingly expresses.

Yolie has the crazy and desperate idea of ​​transporting Mitch’s body to his home in Denver. This way, his wife won’t have to learn of her husband’s death and flirtations at the same time, she reasons. After some bickering, the three agree to use Tere’s car for the trip.

With sibling banter and plenty of pratfall comedy, the trio – er, quartet – hit the road. There will be stops for gas, for slot machines, and to rehash a lifetime of arguments and misunderstandings. There will also be some wonderful inside jokes and dances. They are sisters, after all.

The moving dead is a conceit that the playwright himself recognizes as idiotic. (“It’s kind of fun,” says Yolie during a stop at the restaurant. “What, this ‘Weekend at Bernadette’ thing we did?” Tere turns around.) Indeed, “Cebollas” often oscillates between two genres: the sitcom and the family melodrama. This makes it funny and familiar at times, but can also make it deceptively light.

A roadside rest stop for the ages: From left, Zuleyma Guevara, Jamie Ann Romero and Xochitl Romero are sisters on a mission in “Cebollas.” (Jamie Krause Photography, provided by Denver Center)

The Denver Center’s Singleton Theater may seem like a cramped space for a road trip, but set designer Raul Abrego sends our protagonist in a car that turns smoothly with the curves of the highway. The video projections (by Alex Basco Koch and John Erickson) keep them – and us – moving, stopping at rest areas and passing landscapes and towns, a casino on an Indian reservation and this other temple of consumption, Ikea.

The joke of a very pregnant body versus a very dead body gives “Cebollas” plenty of opportunities for physical comedy. Under the direction of Jerry Ruiz (who nurtured the play at the Denver Center’s 2021 Colorado New Play Summit), the actors treat them rightly. Thinking of a plan, Yolie sits on Mitch’s lap and places her cold, dead hands on his big belly. In a gesture combining decency and disgust, Tere makes Mitch’s corpse a little more presentable by zipping up his jeans. Outside of Mitch’s posh Denver home, the three sisters must find ways to appear natural. Their failures fuel outright laughter from the audience.

Yet the series is most revealing when it departs from genre to reveal a family secret, one that Yolie isn’t privy to but has a lot to do with how she and Tere interact. We’re not surprised the secret centers around their parents, but no spoilers here. Let’s just say that “Cebollas” – Spanish for onion – stays true to its meaning. Madrid and its actors unravel the mysteries and effects of a beloved father and a distant mother, making these sisters’ eyes sting and cry, but also adding flavor to their lives.

Lisa Kennedy is a Denver-based freelance writer specializing in film and theater.

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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