Rodrigo Duarte-Clark

A kitchen, relationships, and trust

Back in the early Nineties, playwright Rodrigo Duarte Clark penned a one-woman show for Ruby Nelda Perez, and it became such a hit that the San Antonio actress has been touring it across the country ever since. Naturally, Doña Rosita's Jalapeño Kitchen, about a restaurant owner who considers selling her business and home of 23 years to make way for a new shopping mall, has been through Austin more than once, but the version being mounted this month by Teatro Vivo will be played as an ensemble piece. Duarte Clark will be in town to attend a performance and give a playwriting workshop in association with Austin Script Works. The Chronicle asked him about the genesis of the play and about this particular production.

Austin Chronicle: What gave you the idea for the story?

Rodrigo Duarte Clark: I grew up in a little town near Ventura, California, near the ocean. It was a small rural town that was racially very clearly divided. But as a child, it didn't make any difference to me. I was perfectly happy. And after I did some growing up, I returned, and the neighborhoods that I grew up in were being essentially wiped out and transformed into all these sort of pseudo-upper-middle class tract homes that were absolutely disgusting to me. But at the same time, part of me said change is inevitable, there's nothing that stays the same, for good or bad. So by resisting it, are we resisting something that's inevitable?

AC: It's pretty courageous of you to ask that question. In our desire to hang onto the past, I don't think a lot of people would want to examine that point of view.

RDC: Rosita has a daughter, and her daughter asks her, "Why do you want to stay here? This represents poverty in the worst sense of the word." And Rosita answers: "My memories are here. If I sell, then the guy across the street, that relationship that we have, he grows the chiles and I cook them, will inevitably be broken." I think that's what makes a great play: When you have two strong alternatives that are vying to win out. It makes the interplay between them dynamic.

AC: You wrote the show for one woman, but Teatro Vivo is producing it as an ensemble piece. How do you feel about that?

RDC: Actually, it was recently done in Denver that way, and it worked really well. In the case of Teatro Vivo, because the people involved are people I trust, I let them decide how to approach the piece. Rupert [Reyes, Teatro Vivo's artistic director] joined our company [San Francisco's El Teatro de la Esperanza] in the late Seventies. We were real close friends, we wrote plays together, he was best man at my wedding. There's a play that Teatro Vivo has done, Petra's Pecado, that they've had a lot of success with. Rupert took the main couple from my first play and created a whole new story with Petra's Pecado in a much better play than I had written. So we've loaned each other a lot of things in the past.

Doña Rosita's Jalapeño Kitchen runs Feb. 9-26, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, Sunday, 3pm, at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, call 474-TIXS or visit

De Dos Lenguas (Of Two Languages), a playwriting workshop with Rodrigo Duarte Clark, will take place Saturday, Feb. 11, 10:30am-2pm, at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, contact Rupert Reyes at 970-7016 or

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Rodrigo Duarte Clark, Ruby Nelda Perez, Doña Rosita's Jalapeño Kitchen, Teatro Vivo, Austin Script Works, Rupert Reyes, El Teatro de la Esperanza, Petra's Pecado

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