Grisly Food For Thought

‘Empanada Loca’ is also ‘good, old-fashioned scary storytelling’

Posted: October 27, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Courtesy Photo Guadalupe Campos reprises her role of Dolores in the grisly survival tale "Empanada Loca." "The balance between the political questions it asks with just good, old-fashioned scary storytelling is very evenly distributed," says Cole Wimpee, director of the ArkansasStaged production. And Wimpee says the timing of this particular show -- so close to Halloween -- is ideal.

When ArkansasStaged closes its season with Aaron Mark's gritty, one-woman play "Empanada Loca" on Sunday at 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville, the theater company will be engaging a variety of its audience's senses to make the most of the macabre show, which is loosely based on the legend of Sweeney Todd.

"This time around, we will have a very special 'prologue' drum performance to the event with Al 'Papa Rap' Lopez in the lobby gallery before the show," says ArkansasStaged Executive Director Laura Shatkus. "I can't wait to hear how that will echo through the halls of the museum. I love holding our audiences in that space as the anticipation builds for the show in the ballroom. Because we are lucky enough to hold our events in an award-winning Museum-Hotel-Restaurant, we are absolutely thrilled to be able to provide our audience with delicious empanadas, created especially for our performance, from Chef Matt McClure at The Hive, along with a blood-themed beverage from The Hive bar. [We] are especially tickled with how this food element is going to add the sense of smell to our performance -- not one of the usual senses used at a theatre event. "

FAQ

‘Empanada Loca’

WHEN — Food and drinks at 6 p.m., performance at 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — 21c Museum Hotel, 200 NE A St., Bentonville

COST — Free with a suggested donation of $10 (includes empanada and specialty cocktail from The Hive)

INFO — www.facebook.com/ArkansasStaged

Shatkus says she first saw the show performed by Guadalupe Campos -- who is reprising her role as Dolores for ArkansasStaged -- when Campos presented it as her graduate thesis in Fayetteville.

"Guadalupe is a very sweet and friendly person in real life," says Shatkus. "She's the kind of person that makes you realize you haven't washed your hair in a week and that there is probably a stain somewhere on your shirt. Watching her transform into Dolores, the mole person subway dweller, is a true delight. It allows her to express her gritty, dark underbelly, even as she sweetly smiles the whole while."

Campos says being the sole focus of an audience for 95 minutes is not always an easy task.

"This show honestly does feel like a roller coaster," she says. "Once I'm off, there's no going back, and there really isn't anyone to save me if something goes wrong. All I can do is trust that I know the story inside and out and trust the incredible writing of Aaron Mark, the playwright."

This is director Cole Wimpee's second time working with Campos on the show, after directing her thesis project.

"It is [Campos'] heart and humor that make her a perfect choice for the role of Dolores," says Wimpee. "The character is complex and does some horrifying things in this story, but, somehow, we are forced to simultaneously reconcile her behavior with our empathy for her. I think this is a key ingredient to the story, and it is works so beautifully because Campos has qualities of her own heart that she lends to the character. It is all the more compelling that we love and feel for her journey just as much as we are troubled by her actions."

When first performed in New York in 2015, reviews of the show made note of the play's grisly nature. TheaterMania.com said that the play was "a real hair-raiser. Anyone looking for a good fright won't want to miss it, but beware: This show is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach."

But Campos points out that under the macabre plot lies a deeper message.

"I believe that the audience is supposed to have varying reactions to the show," she says. "'Empanada Loca' does a beautiful job addressing several social issues such as gentrification, homelessness, sexual and drug abuse, which are not always comfortable to talk about. Thematically, it explores what it means to love someone and what it means to be betrayed, which I think any human can empathize with. Also, it explores the ideas of completely losing control of your actions and spiraling down to a place that you never though you would be, which can be terrifying, if you really think about it. This is the story of a woman who was set up to succeed and is now living in the underground tunnels of New York City eating scraps for food. It's one of my worst nightmares.

"While I think the play is not meant to deeply disturb anyone, I do think it's meant to raise questions, as well as provide a thrilling and provocative night of entertainment."

NAN What's Up on 10/27/2017