Dream team

Curious Theatre Company continues its 25th season with the regional premiere of ‘Alma,’ exploring the ‘American Dream’ through the eyes of an immigrant mother and her daughter

Credit: Mark Montour Larson

Immigration may just be a political talking point for some Americans, but for others, it’s a tangible reality. That much is evident in Benjamin Benne’s Alma, a play examining the contours of the so-called “American dream” through the perspectives of its title character Alma, an undocumented immigrant facing deportation back to Mexico, and Angel, her first-generation daughter.

“The things people argue about over the water cooler, in Congress and online are really happening and affecting real people. It’s somebody’s daughter, mother, sister or wife,” says actor Laura Chávez, who stars as Alma. “What I love about this play is that it focuses on the human beings who people may have never thought twice about, but who are most affected by immigration laws.” 

The play, currently making its regional premiere at Curious Theatre Company in Denver through Feb. 18, is set on the eve of Angel’s SAT exam. While Angel preps for her test, she helps coach her mom for her upcoming citizenship exam. Both are excited about the opportunities offered by their respective evaluations, but fear the system is stacked against them. 

Benne based the play on the stories he heard growing up from his mom, who immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala without documentation in the late 1970s. Unlike many in her position today, she was able to become a citizen, which opened a pathway to safety and comfort in her new American life.

With his mom’s story in mind, the playwright began researching immigration law during the early stages of his work on Alma. Benne’s efforts resulted in a play that would take home the National Latinx Playwriting Award after being developed locally at the 2020 Colorado New Play Summit, hosted by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA). Now the production returns to the Front Range after having its twin world premieres in 2022 at the American Blues Theater in Chicago and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.   

Iliana Lucero Barron, who plays Angel in Curious Theatre’s production of Alma, worked on the show when it first appeared in Denver at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ 2020 New Play Summit.  “Grady Soapes [DCPA artistic producer and director of casting] gave me the offer to read stage direction for Alma at the stage reading,” Barron says. She has been a part of the festival since 2017 and was ecstatic to be a part of Alma’s presentation at the Summit. 

“I got to be in the room with Benjamin Benne, the playwright, and this incredible team of women. I just remember listening to the play and thinking, ‘I want to do this play one day,’ Barron says. “And it’s so exciting and kind of a full-circle moment for me that I now get to play this role and be a part of this show.” 

But this isn’t the first time Barron and Chávez have worked together on stage. The pair previously played a dysfunctional aunt and niece in The Source Theatre Company’s 2019 production of Suicide Lies, and Barron says the reunion is a chance to capitalize on the deep dynamic they’ve built between each other as actors. 

“Laura and I connect on a whole different level, and she is so giving on stage,” Barron says. “It was a joy to step into this play with her and [was] the best gift of all, because I 100% trust Laura.”  

The relationship between the play’s leads may predate this production, but the regional premiere of Alma is the first time Barron has worked with Curious Theater Company. She says getting involved with the Denver-based organization in its 25th year, alongside newly appointed artistic producer Jada Suzanne Dixon, was a special opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“It’s so wonderful to be in a healthy environment with such powerhouse women,” Barron says. “As a person of color who is also queer, I’m no stranger to the difficulties of life. It is so beautiful to tell a story that’s so truthful but also heartbreaking.”

For Chicago-based director Denise Yvette Serna, a big part of that beauty lies in the devotion and care between Alma and Angel. “The root of the conflict is: ‘I love you so much and would do anything for you,’” Serna says. “I just think it’s beautiful that you can love someone that much.” 

In addition to the tender relationship among its two main characters, Serna says she was also drawn to the script’s themes, which explore intergenerational divides and the loss of cultural identity.

“Angel’s life is completely different from her mom’s,” Serna says. “There’s this tragedy that comes from a disconnect in language, culture, and even food. Angel is embarrassed to eat the lunch that her mom makes her at school; she’d rather be hungry than eat the rice and beans. That is the tragedy of assimilation.” 

For Chávez, the mother-daughter aspect hit particularly close to home. “As I was first reading the play, I thought, ‘Did somebody eavesdrop on my life and write down actual arguments I’ve had with my kid?’” 

But beyond these familiar moments of family intimacy, Chávez says she hopes Alma spurs more than reflection on the love between a mother and daughter. She also hopes it will change how people think about immigrant communities and policymaking writ large.

“I want the play to make immigration a 3D issue,” Chávez says. “[One] that will make audiences pause and consider if there’s a better way to deal with this that doesn’t rip apart hopes, dreams and families.”  

ON STAGE: Alma by Benjamin Benne. Various times through Feb. 18, Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., Denver. Tickets here.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included a misspelling in the last name of Jada Suzanne Dixon.


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