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Playwright finds muse in curiosity

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In ‘Secret Things,’ a journalist investigates crypto-Jews in N.M.

Curiosity prompted Elaine Romero to write a play about the Jewish roots of Hispanics in the Southwest.

Romero said back in the late 1990s she was doing research in Santa Fe for another play when she fell into a conversation with Stan Hordes, a scholar on the subject of crypto-Jews.

“I told him my mother wondered if she might have that background. I said that I thought about the possibility of writing a play on that subject. I was curious about it. When I’m curious about something, I write a play,” the Chicago-based playwright said in a phone interview.

Hordes, she said, later gave her books and copies of documents as background on crypto-Jews.

Then came a series of readings and workshops on the script in California, Arizona, Florida and New York.

Now the play, “Secret Things,” will have its world premiere Thursday, July 25, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. It will be staged at the NHCC through Aug. 11 and then presented at Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe Aug. 16-25.

“It’s an identity play and a spiritual play,” Romero said.

The play centers on the character of Delia, a respected magazine journalist in New York City.

The backstory, said director Valli Marie Rivera, is that Delia gets a package in the mail that has material about crypto-Jews. Delia convinces her boss, Ben, an Ashkenazi Jew who is her ex-lover, to let her return to her home state of New Mexico to investigate the material with the idea of writing a story for the magazine.

“In the first scene Delia sees herself in a dream, and in this dream a woman called Aunt, who resembles her Mother, shows her this beautiful space where all her history is and how she can find her soulmate. This place is called Sephardia,” Rivera said.

In the next scene, Delia is in New Mexico and meets with Abel, one of the people named in the research material for her to interview.

“Abel talks a lot about his family, how they had come from España, landed in Mexico and came up north, running away from the Inquisition in Mexico,” Rivera said.

“Something else happens. They can’t take their eyes off of each other.”

Lila Martinez portrays Delia, whom she described as a very determined young woman who is ambitious in terms of her career and herself.

Romero said the second half of the play takes place in Sephardia where Delia has an alternate-reality experience where her name is Delilah. In Sephardia, Delia meets Mother, Father, Aunt, Abel, Ben and the Rabbi.

“This is a place where it’s safe, where they express their love,” Rivera said. “And then comes the moment of Delia knowing who she is and owning it.”

Among the other actors are Mario Moreno as Abel, Salomé Martinez-Lutz as Aunt/Mother, Harry Zimmerman as Father/Rabbi and Benjamin Liberman as Ben.