Organic Sofrito or Other Recipes for Disaster
Written & performed by Venessa M. Diaz
Directed by Melissa Crespo
United Solo Theatre Festival @ Theatre Row
Review By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD
Santita Soto has a successful web cooking show where she teaches her viewers to make holistic, natural, and healthier versions of traditional Latin dishes. While guiding her viewers through recipes of holiday dishes, Santita also reveals family memories associated with the dishes, the ingredients, or the smells of the food. Audience members experiencing this one woman show will be transported back in time as they witness Venessa Diaz transform herself into other characters including Santita’s grandmother, mother, and aunt. Organic Sofrito is a beautiful and powerful show about the intersection of food, trauma, and healing.
Diaz’s representation of the generational wounds shared by Santita and the women in her family is amazing. Each character is well-developed and realistic. Audience members will not know who to root for or against. Santita is physically and verbally abused by her mother. Santita’s mother is plagued with regrets and resentment at having had to struggle financially while growing up and then finding herself in an unfulfilling marriage as an adult. Santita’s aunt is hurt by a relationship with a man who loves drugs and needles more. Santita’s grandmother tries to make the best of having to leave Puerto Rico for New York City but loses it when her only son dies as a teenager. Diaz seamlessly weaves these women’s stories together and the ways that one another’s trauma impacts them all.
Organic Sofrito is in line with John Leguizamo’s Freak and Adelina Anthony’s La Sad Girl (part of her larger work La Hocicona Series). Organic Sofrito, much like Freak, depicts a Latinx coming of age story of a young person trying to make sense and to overcome the trauma they’ve experienced and their desire to pursue their dreams. La Sad Girl’s focus on Latinas’ mental health is also present in Diaz’s work. There isn’t a direct acknowledgement by any of the characters that they suffer from a mental illness or that they take medications as part of their healing process, for example, but it is difficult to not read the women’s trauma and their subsequent emotional responses as a part of a larger conversation on mental health in Latinx communities.
Santita connects the metaphor of recipes, as in the ingredients we use and the steps we take to prepare and cook our food, to the lives we lead and the relationships we keep. Her focus on holistic diets emphasizes the need for alternative modes of being, of having familial relationships, and of healing that break the cycle of generational trauma. In other words, just as we have the power to change traditional cooking recipes for healthier ones we may be able to do the same with family and gender roles.
Diaz is a talented writer and actor. Without giving too much away about the story, there is a scene where Santita as a teenager tries to communicate her pain and sadness to her mother and her mother completely invalidates those feelings by suggesting that Santita has not suffered as much as she. In an angry tirade Santita’s mother goes on and on about her own trauma without ever recognizing that she’s harming her daughter just as she was harmed. I was consumed by Diaz’s performance in this scene. The exchange between Santita and her mother felt too real and it struck a chord. Diaz tackles complicated issues such as abuse, mental health, healing, and forgiveness with a grace that will make her audiences cry and laugh.
Organic Sofrito is a must see. For information about booking the show, visit http://www.venessadiaz.com/