Las Vegas, N.M – Actress and playwright Lisandra Tena will perform her one-woman play Guera May 13 at 7 p.m. in Highlands University’s historic Ilfeld Auditorium, 900 University Ave.
Tena, an Albuquerque native and magna cum laude graduate of the prestigious DePaul University Theatre School in Chicago, wrote Guera in 2012 as a story about the tenacity and triumph of the human spirit in the face of lost love, family dysfunction, drug addiction and violence.
“I chose the name Guera for my play because it was my nickname with family and friends when I grew up in the South Valley of Albuquerque,” Tena said. “Guera means a light-skinned Mexican woman.”
The 29-year-old Tena said Guera is based upon her upbringing.
“I was raised by a single Mexican father so the story is about that and the absence of my mother who was addicted to crack. My father is a complex figure who tried his best to raise his children with love, but there was also violence in my home,” Tena said.
She said it was an honor to share a story of a Mexican man who has machismo, but also other qualities such as being an extremely hard worker who cares for his children with tenderness.
“When my father saw my play, he thanked me,” Tena said.
Drawing upon years of supporting herself as a waitress, Tena wrote Guera in a style where she banters with the audience, inviting them to choose the evening’s scenes from the menu of a Mexican restaurant.
“I served for many years in restaurants in Albuquerque and it made perfect sense to use this tool as a vehicle to drive the story. Why not let the audience choose what they want to see, rather than what I want to give them?” Tena said.
As the audience enters Ilfeld they’ll be handed a menu. Some examples of menu items include “Ass Kickin’ Posole” billed as an “imperfect blend of over-the-border ingredients in a caldo de aguántese seasoned with our homegrown jealousy” or “Chola Musical” described as “creamy cheesecake coated in homemade cherry syrup sprinkled with a dash of bitters.”
Nan Elsasser, managing director for Guera, said the audience engagement is what makes the production innovative.
“There’s so much lively interaction between Lisandra and the audience,” Elsasser said. “She engages people in advocating for their favorite menu item. She’ll shout out, ‘Who’s ready for an appetizer?’ and wait for the responses. The content is an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
Elsasser said the language in Guera is suitable for adults and teenagers 16 and older.
In her play, Tena plays the roles of father, mother, stepmother, judge, police officer, child and restaurant server.
“It’s all about preparation when playing each role and also being very grounded as an actor,” Tena said. “The costume changes can be minimal – like putting on glasses or a jacket. I also shift my posture for the different characters and adjust my voice.”
In June 2015, Tena was a fellow at the Women’s International Study Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she revised Guera for a 2016 national tour. Guera is a production of Sprouts International Ensemble Theater. The artistic director for Guera is Rebeca Mayorga.
Some of Tena’s Chicago theater credits include Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology and This is Not a Cure for Cancer. In Los Angeles she appeared in the play Your Problem With Men.
“Lisandra Tena is an uncompromising actress who understands the power of a personal story,” wrote Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune.
Tena played Lina Ochoa on the NBC television show Chicago P.D. and has appeared in numerous short films and commercials.
The performance of Geura benefits the Highlands University Foundation. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door or by calling Ilfeld Auditorium at 505-454-3238.
“Guera is a rare opportunity to see a contemporary play performed on our campus by an accomplished New Mexico artist like Lisandra Tena,” said Theresa Law, vice president for advancement at Highlands. “The proceeds from the performance will be used for a wide range of students needs including scholarships.”
Law said that both Highlands Board of Regent member Sandra Turner and Highlands Foundation Board member Pauline Rindone recommended that Guera be performed as a benefit for the university’s foundation.