Professor’s play to premiere on New York’s Theatre Row

A 10-year-old girl from Mexico takes a trip with her mother to New York not knowing that life was about to change. Her dreams, goals and aspirations were all about to be set in one of New York’s many theaters. The girl, Kathleen Anderson Culebro, and her mother buy tickets to see “Pippin.” At the time, the musical starred a little-known actress named Susan Sarandon. They sit so close to the stage that the actors’ sweat drips onto them. She becomes enamored with the atmosphere, and wants more of it.

Now, Culebro works in theater. In 2001, she began teaching stage makeup classes at TCU, and has taught several screenwriting classes in the radio-TV-film department.

Her most recent accomplishment is an off-Broadway play, “La Llorona, The Crying Woman,” which opens Feb. 4 at the Beckett Theatre on New York’s Theatre Row.

The play is the story of an American executive assigned to open an American fast-food restaurant in Mexico City, according to a press release. He and his pregnant wife relocate to Mexico City and rent a centuries-old hacienda from a Mexican architect.

The hacienda is visited by La Llorona, a spirit who sings her song of sadness in hopes of rescuing both couples from danger.

Culebro was inspired to write the play back in the 1990s after the U.S. signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and American fast food chains, like Taco Bell, started expansion in Mexico.

“They came down in droves,” Culebro said.

The story’s ghost, La Llorona, was inspired by a traditional Hispanic folk song with the same title, she said.

“I like her style of writing,” said Sarah Elizondo, a junior theater major. “She always writes a piece of her own life. She writes Hispanic roles that have a lot of substance.”

“La Llorona” has been in the works for years, and has constantly been rewritten, Culebro said. Its current producer and director, Tom Ferriter, eventually noticed the script, and now, the story has made its way to New York.

It is a tremendous honor to have a theater company choose her work, Culebro said.

“It’s a labor of love,” Culebro said. “You don’t make money off of the theater. You do it because it’s what you have to do. There’s a part of yourself that you tap into that you only experience when you’re writing.”

Nancy McCauley, a professor of scene design, scene painting and theatre graphics, said she had Culebro as a student before Culebro went on to teach one of McCauley’s classes.

“I’m very glad the play is getting a viewing in New York,” McCauley said. “Everybody should be in a live audience and see live theater. It’s very unique.”

Culebro said the play is a complicated story, but she hopes that, whether people hate it or not, they leave with a little more understanding of the Hispanic culture.