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Theater Review: ‘Earthquake Chica’

Smart writing lifts ‘Chica’ beyond standard tale of mismatched lovers

Sam Reyes (Joe Quintero) and Esmeralda Portillo (Alida Gunn) stumble into love.

Sam Reyes (Joe Quintero) and Esmeralda Portillo (Alida Gunn) stumble into love.

Maybe there isn’t a kind heart beating inside every weirdo in mismatched clothes, but Sam (Joe Quintero) is sure he wants to open up the person nicknamed Earthquake Chica to read deeply of her inner passages. Literature is a world he knows and loves intimately.

As for this gaudy looking chica, it’s easy to believe she’s never read a book in her life. She doesn’t speak much Spanish, which does bother Sam, a bilingual accountant captivated by the feel of Spanish poetry. He may be shy, but he knows what he likes.

That’s the set-up for “Earthquake Chica,” a romantic comedy by Anne Garcia-Romero receiving its world premiere at Borderlands Theater. Cast in the title role is Alida Gunn. Her given name is Esmeralda; her self-proclaimed arenas of expertise are “the bedroom, the dance floor and the department store.”

She is noisy and spontaneous, not given to looking before leaping. But she hates the name Earthquake Chica. Her father called her that, and she doesn’t like him much, either.

Sam is very patient, however. He knows she is The One. The problem is, Esmeralda doesn’t. Even though they have worked in the same Los Angeles law office for some time, she never thought Sam would ever be The One.

But by intermission, “Earthquake Chica” has moved beyond the obvious sit-com TV fare. In the second act, we are reminded people need to be careful what they wish for.

Garcia-Romero has a writing style that comfortably contains the literary spirit of Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges and others. Even though Esmeralda has rejected her heritage and isn’t that crazy about learning much Spanish, her vocabulary does contain lots of colorful expressions.

The conversations in this two-person play flow back and forth in gentle shapes. Even when there is much shouting, the words never feel jagged or abrupt. Like boxers they thrust and parry, shifting from offense to defense and back again, hoping to find an advantage.

As director, Eva Tessler carefully shades the changes as their relationship develops. Of course, audience members are trained to believe every romantic comedy has a happy ending. The suspense comes not from wondering if they will get together, but wondering how the heck all those obstacles will be overcome.

But what “Earthquake Chica” really wants to tell us is that we all have our favorite shields to hide behind – such as aggressive sexuality or an intellectual attitude. The hardest part for each of us is to stop fighting, to lay down our shield and trust the other person to do the same.



What: Borderlands Theater “Earthquake Chica” by Anne Garcia-Romero

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through June 23.

Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.

Price: $10.75-$16.75, with discounts.

Info: 882-7406, www.borderlandstheater.org

Grade: B

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