In the early 1990s, in the heyday of international films being widely distributed, one movie came along that captured my love of the supernatural, romance and food. That film, and the book that inspired it, have stayed with me for decades. And now, Mexican author Laura Esquivel’s iconic “Like Water for Chocolate” (“Como Agua para Chocolate”) has a new territory to conquer: the stage.
GALA Hispanic Theatre, with its decades of presenting groundbreaking progressive and outstanding theater from the Spanish and Spanish-speaking diaspora, has done it again with the world premiere of the stage version of the beloved book and film, telling the story of a woman whose cooking prowess combines with her pure, overwhelming emotions to create food that consumes its consumer magically.
The story of Tita, who grows up during the turbulent times of the Mexican Revolution, never fails to capture the audience with enrapturing storytelling. She and her sisters live on a Mexican ranch, and matriarch, Mama Elena (Luz Nicolás) runs a tight ship with her three daughters, along with the household help.
Tita ((Inéz Dominguez Corral) has a knack for cooking dishes that are both exotic and loaded with her own emotions to the delight of her sisters Gertrudis (Yaremis Félix) and Rosaura (Guadelupe Campos). When visitors come, in the personage of Don Pasquale (Carlos Castillo) and his son Pedro (Peter Pereyra), the young man falls hopelessly in love with Tita and her cooking.
But Mama Elena, remaining steadfast to traditions, which mandate the youngest daughter to take care of her widowed mother, refuses to let her marry Pedro, and instead offers the hand of her oldest daughter, Rosaura. He accepts, using the marriage to remain close to Tita. Of course, the romance is thwarted and the decades go by.
One would be remiss to downplay the importance of the two indigenous women who work in the house, Nacha (Teresa Yenque), who teaches her culinary magic to young Tita, and Chencha (Karen Morales), the simple but loyal helper who sympathizes with Tita and tries to find a way to join the lovers. Along with the narrator (Karen Romero), they bring the epic story to life with humor and sentiment.
Using simple but effective staging (scenic design by Mariana Fernández) and direction by Olga Sánchez in her GALA Theatre debut, all of the magic, ghosts and otherworldly events come to life to illustrate the family saga, which culminates in a mixture of ecstasy and tragedy at once.
Playwright Garbi Losado’s adaptation remains true to the essence of the book and the 1992 film, making “Like Water for Chocolate” a sweet reminder of its previous incarnations and a delight for the senses to the new and unfamiliar audience.
“Like Water for Chocolate” (“Como Agua para Chocolate”), plays through Oct. 7 at GALA Hispanic Theater, 3333 14th Street NW. A special post-performance discussion with Rosa Aurora Chávez, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University will take place Sept. 30. Go to www.galatheatre.org for showtimes and tickets.