Majestic Repertory returns with the deliciously creepy ‘Empanada Loca’

Amanda Guardado
Photo: Steve Marcus

Once upon a time, Dolores was a bright, young college student full of hope for the future. But she fell in love with a drug dealer, dropped out of school, took the fall for his crimes and served 13 years in prison. Now free, she returns to her old neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York, to find it transformed by gentrification. The only thing left from the old days? Restaurant Empanada Loca, run by her old friend Luis. Soon, Dolores is set up in Luis’ basement making a living off the one marketable skill she learned in prison: massage.

“It’s a horror play, but there’s a beautiful poetic element to it that’s based in realism,” says Troy Heard, artistic director of Majestic Repertory Theatre, which will stage Empanada Loca from September 9 through 26. “Because she’s been in prison for 13 years, she feels comfortable down in the basement with the bars on the window, because it reminds her of the safety she’s had.”

Amanda Guardado, a UNLV grad who’ll play Dolores, picks up the thread: “And then I end up underground, like fully—not just in a basement but in an abandoned subway tunnel.”

Heard continues, “How she wound up there is the story. That’s the juicy part.”

Written by Aaron Mark, the one-woman horror play premiered off-Broadway in 2015 to rave reviews. It was described as “exuberantly macabre” (The New York Times), “spine-tingling and stomach churning” (Time Out New York) and “delectably chilling” (Broadway World).

Think of Empanada Loca as an urban myth inspired by a somewhat older urban legend: that of Sweeney Todd, a fictional Victorian-era barber who got a little overzealous with his razor and coincidentally finds a new source for meat pies.

Heard stumbled upon Empanada Loca when browsing horror scripts. “It was really cool, and it’s a strong role for an actor. [Guardado] is one of my favorite performers, so I gave it to her and she connected with it.”

For Guardado, the role has a special sort of resonance. “One of my absolute dream roles is Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd, so it’s ironic I’m playing a female Sweeney.” (In another bit of serendipity, Empanada Loca will be Majestic’s first full show since it staged Sweeney Todd before the pandemic shutdown.)

A first-generation Cuban-American, Guardado says she can also relate to Dolores’ Latina heritage, especially when it comes to the delicacy in question. “I’ve eaten my fair share of empanadas in my life already,” Guardado says. “The ones they mentioned in the play specifically—like guava and cheese—are very close to my culture.”

Above all, the character’s complexity allows Guardado to mine the depths of emotion and circumstance. “It’s such a cool and different role, because, well, she’s homeless [and] she’s living under a tunnel, so it’s very dirty. But she’s actually pretty charismatic and funny,” Guardado says. “It looks like one thing, but then you meet her and it turns out to be something totally unexpected. That’s really fun to do as an actor.”

Empanada Loca September 9-26; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m.; $25; proof of vaccination required. Majestic Repertory Theatre, 1217 S. Main St., 702-423-6366.

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