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El Paso High Players stages magical "The Ortiz Twins Are Coming Home"

(EL PASO HIGH SCHOOL -- Nov. 16, 2021) — Los Lagartos and other iconic features of El Paso make their way on to the stage at El Paso High’s historic theater this week with the production of native El Paso playwright Andrew Siañez-De La O’s “The Ortiz Twins are Coming Home.”

The play features paternal twins Andrea and Mateo Ortiz in an otherworldly adventure play for all audiences, a fantasy rooted in the reality of crossing borders in order to recover memories, both personal and cultural, before they are gone for good.

Organizers described the play as “’James and the Giant Peach’ … but everyone’s Mexican.” The show made its debut last year in Washington, D.C. 

“It’s a real awesome play because it celebrates the culture that is innate in what makes El Paso special,” said El Paso High theater director Jacob Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, when people see the play, they will see a little bit of themselves and a little bit of our city. One of my students said it best, ‘it feels like home.’” 

For Rodriguez, the show is especially sentimental because Siañez-De La O was his student at El Dorado High. Now, Siañez-De La O, a burgeoning playwright and fellow with the Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, is seeing his career take off. But he still made time last week to virtually discuss the play and offer notes with his former teacher and the El Paso students. 

“It is truly an honor to get to stage Andrew's work. It is an amazing feeling getting to see a former student thrive in theatre and being able to collaborate with him has been a thrilling experience,” Rodriguez said. “I see Andrew as a great role model for our students.  He is doing great things with his work and it always makes other students’ dreams a bit more accessible when they see themselves represented both on stage and as the actual creators of theatrical works.” 

Siañez-De La O has a mutual admiration for his former teacher – a mentor who believed in him and encourage to follow his passion for theater.

“Jacob Rodriguez is absolutely the man I credit with helping me take a leap of faith and follow this career path,” the 2013 El Dorado graduate said. “His guidance when I was a young actor helped me find the confidence I needed to be myself and seeing him continue to do the same for others all these years later is amazing.” 

Last week during the virtual visit, Siañez-De La O gave the students insight into the play and characters, and offered them guidance on how to portray them on stage. 

“It was interesting hearing his story about growing up here and how the characters are based on his own life, his own personal story,” said junior Julia Ferret, who plays Andrea Ortiz. “It was a great experience getting notes from someone who wrote the play with a certain idea in mind. Hearing how we met his expectations and hearing how we can make characters become ourselves made it special.”

Freshman Diego Dena, who plays Mateo, was a bit starstruck by the experience.

“It was amazing to hear from him,” Dena said. “He was telling me what he liked and was giving me advice. I want to take his advice because he’s the one.” 

Siañez-De La O may have left El Paso, but his heart remains here. He continues to use materials from his childhood and growing up on the border to fill the pages of his plays. 

“Nothing has filled me with such awe as seeing high schoolers in El Paso perform this play. These wonderful students are breathing new life into the play, even if they don’t realize it,” he said. “Just by living in the city that inspired the piece, these students are revealing so much about the play even after years of workshops and readings across the United States. Never did I imagine any of my work being staged at home so early in my career.” 

“The Ortiz Twins are Coming Home” will be staged at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday. Tickets are $3.

Story by Reneé de Santos
Photos by Leonel Monroy