Play and Real Life Review: Tortilla Curtain, San Diego Repertory Theatre

By staff writer Cathie Nichols. Photos Copyright © Cathie Nichols.

AS A PERSON who prides herself on being on time, I arrived at Horton Plaza with plenty of time to spare. I parked on one of the upper levels and sat tweeting in my car for a bit. After all, I had plenty of time to make it to the San Diego Repertory Theatre for the 1:45 p.m. cut-off for press at the matinee showing of Tortilla Curtain.

(I love writing “press” because I’m just an occasional blog writer posing as press.)

Prior to heading to downtown San Diego, I checked out the San Diego Repertory Theatre website because the last time I shopped at Horton Plaza was about twenty or more years ago. But even this did not prepare me for its size.

Horton Plaza, San Diego

Horton Plaza. This outdoor mall will make you drop before you've shopped all its stores.

Let me tell you, Horton Plaza is HUGE. This downtown mall has taken advantage of its prime real estate and put in so many stores that one would not need to venture elsewhere. From Abercrombie to Zales, Horton Plaza is your one-stop shopping experience. Any trip to San Diego should include a stop at Horton Plaza.

In all my mall-walking, diversionary window shopping and color-coded “You Are Here” directory confusion, I stumbled upon the concierge and asked him directions to the San Diego Theatre. If I’d been playing that game of hot and cold, I would have been in the “getting warmer” arena.

All I had to do was walk down a flight of stairs and then descend into the basement of Horton Plaza. The San Diego Repertory Theatre is underground. Fortunately, I was so intent on being on time that my claustrophobia didn’t have time to stop me in my tracks. I grabbed my ticket and my “press packet” (giggle) at 1:43 p.m.

The theater is intimate and every seat appears to have a good view of the stage. At the matinee performance of Tortilla Curtain, there were few open seats. Many people had left their homes on a cold, blustery afternoon to see the play.

Tortilla Curtain opened with a bang, and I was immediately drawn in. Delaney, a professional writer and environmentalist who has done well for himself, is traveling up a road in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles, on his way to the top where his home is in a planned community. Suddenly, a man darts out in front of Delaney’s car, and he hits him, and sends him flying over the edge into the canyon.

He gets out of his car and searches for the injured person and soon discovers he has hit a Spanish-speaking man who refuses treatment. Delaney tumbles to the fact that the man is refusing treatment because he’s without documents and will be deported if he goes to the hospital, so he offers him $20 for his trouble.

With only seven actors, the play proceeds seamlessly. It is laugh-out-loud funny; the writing is clever and thought-provoking. Some of us may laugh with discomfort because we might see a part of Delaney in ourselves as we watch him transform from a love-everybody-liberal to a man-on-a-mission seeking justice for perceived wrongdoings by the new transplants, characters América and Cándido.

As the story unfolds the audience gets to see how, even though we think we know what happened, each person’s recounting of events is from his or her perspective. Rich with symbolism, this play is about the American dream and what the dream means to different people—the people who are born in America and those who pay large sums of cash to Coyotes to be here. It also explores what people will do once they feel as if their American dream is in jeopardy.

So much of the story is tragic but the characters find a way to make us laugh anyway. They find the silver lining through wildfires, flash floods, and violence. I left the play and really thought about how thankful I am to be here in California, and how much I already have. My family lives a comfortable existence; we do not have to worry about how we will find our next meal.

Yesterday, I was reminded again of Tortilla Curtain while I was unpacking my grocery cart and putting the bags into my car. Although a week has passed since I saw the play, I still think of it because I’m surrounded by similarities between my life and the play.

A slightly disheveled man approached me who reminded me of Cándido because he had such an open and friendly face. He said, “Hablo Español?” I replied no, so he spoke to me in English. He told me he had not eaten in four days, and that he couldn’t afford even a burrito.

With this declaration, he pointed at Roberto’s, a taco shop where the burritos might cost $5. He asked me if I had any work for him. I said no as I searched in my purse for my wallet to give him some money, but he stopped me and said, “No, no. No money. If you have any work for me, I am at the Home Depot. Come and get me there.”

I left him in the grocery store parking lot, and kicked myself mentally after I returned home and suddenly saw an incredible number of projects I could have hired him for.

One thing’s for sure: I will never forget him. Like Cándido, this man respected himself and wanted only to work. Who knows how many of his family members are counting on him to come through with food? Who knows when he will eat again?

Tortilla Curtain brings awareness to those who choose to see the message behind this thoroughly entertaining play.



Horton Plaza

San Diego Repertory Theatre

Cathie Nichols

Cathie Nichols


Cathie Nichols (aka @Bloggoneit) is an author-in-training and is in the process of writing a book. Sometimes overwhelmed with three kids, a husband, a dog, a cat, and an overactive imagination, she finds her sanity by escaping life through a super-sappy movie or tweeting about twending topics.

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  1. (I’m not a fan of shopping, but) I so want to see a play in that theatre!
    Wonderful descriptions, Cathie, I now know what to definitely visit in SD besides the zoo when I get there 🙂 *crosses fingers for a visit in the foreseeable future*

    • I am not a big fan of shopping either. I suppose if I had oodles of cash, I might enjoy it more but I still would probably order from websites!

      For those who like to shop, Horton Plaza is definitely the place to go. You could spend an entire day just exploring all the shops.

      I hope you do get to San Diego one day — give me a call and we’ll meet in real life!

  2. I saw the play and your review of it cannot be topped – I also struggled with the idea of how Delaney changes and how much I may have changed since being in college. These issues we think we know clearly for ourselves so often have grey area and we unwittingly change in the course of growing up – really it is sad. I hear ya on the timliness of that event to stop and make you think. Looking forward to more of your posts!

    • Thank you for the kind comments, Joann. I really did like this play and it was interesting how it stayed on my mind.

      To have the man come up to me in the parking lot was surreal. Nobody had ever done that before. He was just like Candido, asking for work at the post office but this man was asking at my local grocery store. I felt terrible turning him down, but I think the guy in the car next to me had work for him.

      Each time I drive past the Home Depot down the street, I look for him. I do hope I find him again — not only because I have a bunch of jobs he could do but because his way of getting the money to feed himself was done in a way that respected the both of us.

  3. Tortilla Curtain, San Diego Repertory Theatre, hope I can visit and watch theatre in there. I never been in San Diego, but I hear a lot of good things. I can’t wait to spend my whole vacation in SD.

    • San Diego is definitely a beautiful city. I love it here. There is so much to do and see but even if you just want to lay around on the beach for your entire vacation, you can usually do that as well.

      The weather has only a few quirky changes and that makes some tourists upset. For example, we have “June Gloom” and sometimes even “May Gray.” It is the time of year when it is cloudy and dark for the better part of the morning and sometimes into the afternoon. If the sun does peek out, it isn’t for long! I like May Gray and June Gloom because it gives a break from all that sunny weather!

  4. Nicole says:

    San Diego Repertory Theatre is a wonderful place and quite different place to come with the family. I hope I can bring my family there.

    • Definitely, Nicole. Just make sure that the play one is about to see is family friendly. Tortilla Curtain was a well done play but it is not for “little ears.” The play was written for adults and with that comes adult themes.

      Without a doubt, I recommend this play but everyone better hurry because this is its last weekend at the San Diego Rep.

  5. Cathie,

    Welcome to Milliver’s as a Staff Writer — how cool that you took advantage of that to get a press packet! I must try that. 😉

    The play sounds very powerful given how you were thinking of it days later in your exchange with the man at the grocery store.

    I also enjoyed learning a little about Horton Plaza. I spent about a month in San Diego ten years ago and loved the city. I’ll look forward to more of your posts as I’m heading there this fall for a conference and will take your advice on things to see. Maybe we could even meet for a coffee one day?!

    • Hi, Lisa.
      I just took on the staff position yesterday and saw the play on March 25th so I didn’t get to use my newly elevated status as press to get into the play. I was invited by the PR firm in charge of the San Diego Rep. I think it’s because of my connections in Twitter rather than anything specific I did. The lady probably saw that I was on Twitter and needed some blogger buzz on it, and voila!

      Definitely hit me up for coffee. Do you know where you’ll be staying? If you’ll be downtown, I don’t know that area too well, but maybe we can meet half-way somewhere and you can see other parts of San Diego. La Jolla is especially lovely. Also Del Mar is worth a quick look.

      Good thing you’re coming in the Fall; it’s a particularly good time to come because all the tourists have gone home and it’s still very warm. In fact, I think our warmest days are in September and October which is perfect for going to the beach and the best part is there’s a spot for you!

  6. How long has the theater been at Horton Plaza? I ADORE Horton Plaza! They have some terrific shops and restaurants! I love it!

    • Sadly, I don’t know how long it has been there, Ann. I just googled it and it says since 1976 but I think the link to Frommer’s was just saying when the Rep was founded. I’ll have to do some more research on that!

  7. Nice one on the press pass Cathie 🙂

    Great review, concise and thought provoking, and brilliant that you took it outside of the production itself to show the after effects.

    Welcome to the staff 🙂
    Jo x

    • Thank you so much — glad to be here finally. Took a little while to decide to join because I’m rather busy at work and I knew that as soon as I said yes, I’d get even busier. Sure enough… 🙂

      I couldn’t have planned that man showing up at my car at the grocery store if I could have. His timing was impeccable!

  8. Hello Cathie!
    This was so nicely written!
    I haven’t been to Cal. in a very long time. I am a shopper, and will have to make sure I check out the plaza when I get back to that side of the states.
    The play sounded interesting and thought provoking. You know its a good story when it stays with you days later.

    So happy to read another one of your articles. Looking forward to more. Thanks!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Betsy. I have another article coming out on the 20th which I should probably start on soon before I forget everything I did.

      Let me know if you ever make it over this way — would love to meet up for coffee or a chardonnay at sunset!

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