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“Alma” at Chance Theater

From Left: Marta Portillo and Heather Lee Echeverria (Photo by Doug Catiller)

A universally relatable mother-daughter drama that is both poignant and relevant.

By Anne Reid

“Alma'' is a play about a mom and her daughter, Angel, who made sixteen wishes long ago: good health, love, carne asada every day, perfect SAT scores, and a spot at UC Davis, just to name a few. But now that Angel is 17, she’s got a different vision for her future than her immigrant single mom. Featuring the powerfully fresh voice of playwright Benjamin Benne, winner of the National Latine Playwrights Award, “Alma'' is a poetic, funny, and timely play. It begs the question: what does the American Dream mean today—and who does it belong to?

“Alma” is set in December 2016. The electoral college hasn’t yet met and people are on edge. For immigrants what that means is uncertainty, especially for people who have been scapegoated as murderers and rapists. Although we rely on and need immigrants to sustain ourselves in our communities, the new incoming administration has vowed to address immigrant communities in a particularly negative way. After the election, the mom in this story is very aware of what it means for her, as an undocumented immigrant, and potentially for her daughter.

One night things unfold that put their relationship to the test. Alma, portrayed by Marta Portillo, has certain expectations. Her daughter Angel, played by Heather Lee Echeverria, also has expectations, but hers are different as she grapples with newfound feelings about being the first in their family to go to college. Overall, the story is about what happens when you go against your family's expectations for you. 

Marta Portillo in Alma at Chance Theater (Photo by Doug Catiller)

“There is a layer of magical realism in relation to where they are, their history, and the mom’s faith is ultimately tested,” said Director Sara Guerrero.

The play is beautifully written and easy to relate to. At its heart, it's a mother/daughter story filled with many of the trials, stress, love, dreams, and hope that are a part of so many child/parent relationships. And it also deftly reveals many of the experiences and challenges faced by an immigrant family in America during this modern, volatile time. It's an empathy play, and a story that some will recognize as close to their own. Others will find it as eye-opening as it is heart-opening. And it does this through incredibly vivid characters, remarkable dialogue, humor, poetry, a little magic, and a whole lot of heart.

“At Chance, one of the tenets by which we set out to accomplish our mission was producing powerful, socially-conscious, provocative, intimate theater experiences,” said James McHale, Chance’s Literary Director. ‘Alma’ fits all of that and more.” 

In casting the two characters, Guerrero says the process was about conversations, looking at my network and Chance’s network to find the right people. “We had an incredible turnout which made it harder for me to make my decision,” she said. “But I’m very happy with the cast! The chemistry between the two is so great.”

Both of the actors are making their Chance Theater debut. “I'm always thrilled to have new artists working with us at Chance, and I'm very much looking forward to being introduced to their work,” said McHale. 

As for Guerrero, she is an incredibly articulate, highly intelligent director who has an amazing passion for storytelling and for her community according to McHale. “She's the founder of the Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble, whose mission is to support and enrich the lives of Latinas in the performing arts. She's an amazing advocate, and this play puts front and center the women and artists she has been working so hard to uplift.”

Heather Lee Echeverria in Alma at Chance Theater (Photo by Doug Catiller)

“I think audiences will love the intimacy of the show!” McHale said. “There's something very special about a two-person play already, but it's also set in our Fyda-Mar Stage, and with 50 seats no matter where an audience member sits they will gain an extra level of intimacy with the actors and the show; so many extra nuances and little moments that you can witness.” 

Guerrero, who is originally from Orange County, says it’s really nice to be working at home. “I grew up in Anaheim and this play represents a lot about our community. I’m grateful for the opportunity and that I get to do this for a living,” she said. “This play really reminds me to never forget where you come from and the sacrifices of those that made it possible. The ghosts made it possible for me to sit and let things happen in a lovely way,” said Guerrero. She is sure the ending will hit audiences in a place where they will be filled with emotion, love, uncertainty, and hope.

“Alma” kicks off Friday, May 3 with pay-what-you-can previews at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center on the Fyda-Mar Stage. Opening night is officially Saturday, May 11 at 8 pm. There also will be a LatinX Community Night with Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble on May 17 from 7 - 11pm.

Anne Reid is a writer, public & community relations expert, and theatre mom.


Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center

5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA

May 3 - 31, 2024

(888) 455-4212,

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