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Empanada Loca

  • Theater
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Empanada Loca: Theater review by Raven Snook

If you're planning on dinner and a show, make sure you eat before seeing Labyrinth Theater Company's Empanada Loca, writer-director Aaron Mark's latest urban horror story, which is guaranteed to ruin your appetite. Like the gory auteur’s Another Medea, this spine-tingling and stomach-churning monologue is inspired by legend (Sweeney Todd), stars a Tony-nominated Broadway vet (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and slyly plays on NYC-specific fears, such as nefarious subway dwellers, class tensions and mystery meat.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Big Apple, the twitchy and broken Dolores (Rubin-Vega in a terrifying turn) recounts her tragic life story to an unseen stranger. It starts out as an inner-city tale: teen orphan works for drug dealer and eventually takes the rap for him. But then it turns into something much more sinister when she returns to the ’hood after 13 years in jail and shacks up with an old client with a crush, empanada maker Luis. Anyone familiar with the Sondheim musical (or other adaptations of the material) knows exactly where the chef, the Mrs. Lovett in this scenario, ends up getting his tasty fillings, but surprise isn't the goal. It's all about atmosphere.

Hunched and rocking on a decrepit massage table, a dark hoodie and a spotlight framing her gaunt, makeup-less face, Rubin-Vega draws us in, initially garnering sympathy and even laughs until we start to see her for the chilling psychopath she's become (albeit with a lot of enabling along the way). Mark's dialogue is unnervingly authentic, and Rubin-Vega masterfully delineates each character by shifting her accent and posture. After 90 minutes of talk, the Grand Guignol finale delivers some convincing stage blood that prompts many in the audience to turn away. But shock value aside, the most unsettling part of the show is the revelation that Dolores had aspirations and attended college. She started out like so many of us, and that's truly scary. 

Bank Street Theater (Off Broadway). Written and directed by Aaron Mark. With Daphne Rubin-Vega. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

Written by
Raven Snook


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