BWW Review: Pollyanna Reveals Texas Cultural History With THE TEXAS CHILI QUEENS
As a sixth generation Texan, I thought I was fairly well versed in our vast cultural history, but Pollyanna Theatre Company proves that even this old woman still has a lot to learn. THE TEXAS CHILI QUEENS playing school performances this week and public performances this coming weekend tells the story of the origins of the Tex-Mex food that we thrive on. I don't know about you, but I can't go a week without a steaming bowl of chili, tacos or my beloved enchiladas. But how did these foods get here and what was the driving force behind their mega popularity in Texas today?
Playwright Kathleen Fletcher answers exactly those questions in her delightful and inspiring play. The play begins at a school where a group of students are discussing an upcoming assignment. Their presentations are supposed to cover where their families are 'from'. Several of the kids know a bit about their family history, but Allie (Lucky Cantu) draws a blank when she tries to conjure her origins. When she heads home she questions her Abuela (Yvonne Cortez Flores) who tells her that food is the key to their ancestors. Through split staging the story of THE TEXAS CHILI QUEENS is told. For over 100 years Hispanic women of San Antonio spent the day cooking their Mexican delicacies and by night they would gather in the open area in front of the Alamo. People flocked from across Texas and eventually across the US to taste the food these entrepreneurial women served. Can you imagine an open air market with the tantalizing aromas of gloriously spiced food drifting through the air at the very heart of San Antonio? (My heart skips a beat when I envision such a magical place). But where there is great success, there is envy and competition. The competition comes in the form of prepackaged spices and canned goods that can be sold around the world. The wealthy and powerful eventually close down the food market with a series of laws under the guise of food safety. The women are forced to disband their enterprise and the Chili Queens were largely forgotten. But this story is such an important part of our shared Texas history that should be remembered and celebrated. Women sometimes need to remember their own power and historically part of that power has been through the meal prepared for their loved ones every day. These Chili Queens may be gone but not before leaving their mark on world culture forever. Thank you so much Kathleen Fletcher and Pollyanna Theatre for bringing this amazing story to the stage.
I have worked in children's theatre and Theatre For Young Audiences for a long time and no one does it better than Director Judy Matetzschk-Campbell. The biggest mistake in shows for kids is talking down to the audience, something Pollyanna never does. The shows are always perfectly pitched to be enjoyed by every audience member no matter the age. The cast of THE TEXAS CHILI QUEENS is utterly delightful especially Yvonne Cortez Flores and Joe Kelly. Flores gives us so much grandmotherly love the audience feel included in her embrace. As all the male characters in the show, Joe Kelly is hilarious as he changes accents as easily as he changes costumes, we never know what he's going to do next. Fletcher's script is full of great historical information told in a warm and beautiful way. Andrew Perry's projections are beautiful and perfectly timed to the action on stage; while Zac Thomas' set design is efficient and clever. Natalie George's lighting design is colorful and evokes a feeling of warmth and love. Costumes by Pam Friday work well for the fast changes the actors must make as well as giving us a glimpse into the colorful fashion of Mexico in the past.
All together THE TEXAS CHILI QUEENS is not only a wonderful production, it's thought provoking for everyone, even this old grandmother. I hope you will take the entire family to enjoy this outstanding show.
Photo credit: Joni Lorraine
THE TEXAS CHILI QUEENS
by Kathleen Fletcher
Pollyanna Theatre Company at The Rollins
Public Shows: Saturday, November 16 & 17 at 2:00 PM
Running Time: Approx 50 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $12.00 - $10.50 thelongcenter.org