Part of the fun of watching shows and movies filmed in Northern New Mexico is spotting our actor friends in the background of crowd scenes or sometimes in speaking parts. New Mexico performer and writer Debrianna Mansini was one who scored a recurring role in "Breaking Bad" and its prequel, "Better Call Saul." As diner waitress Fran, she served coffee and exchanged pleasantries with cartel boss Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), perplexingly lovable enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and "criminal lawyer" Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), prior to his self-reinvention as Saul Goodman.
This weekend, Mansini brings her original one-woman show, "The Meatball Chronicles," to the stage at the Peñasco Theatre, 15046 State Road 75, in Peñasco. There will be two performances: Saturday (Oct. 5) at 7 p.m. and Sunday (Oct. 6) at 1 p.m. Advance ticket purchase is available at brownpapertickets.com.
Mansini weaves her stories around the work of kneading dough and stirring sauce for the treasured recipes of her own Italian family. The elaborate meals form a common thread through childhood, love relationships and the complex bonds between mother and daughter. The memories associated with each recipe reveal the universally relatable ways that families cope, laugh, grieve and show their love through food.
She has been touring with the show, most recently in Los Angeles and at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, and has earned rave reviews.
"I am thrilled to be bringing my show to the Peñasco Collective," Mansini said. "That is what I love about theater -- being part of a larger community, especially one that gives so much to my beloved New Mexico. I have been so fortunate to have been well received around the country, and it is a joy to be home. I have been mostly touring in small theaters, but am now branching out into food festivals and larger venues.
"Although the story centers around my Italian family" she continued, "the themes were carefully structured to reach anyone who eats and has a family. So many cultures have a history that passes through their food culture, and most families have their food histories -- special holiday desserts, favorite birthday cakes. Those stories are deep and rich, and though the focus may be the food, the chords they strike -- how they made us feel, who we remember, what happened during those holidays -- are stories we all have and can identify in ourselves.
"That is what I tried to do with 'The Meatball Chronicles,' and I think why it has been so successful. That actually is the core of how I work as an actor, and the kind of humanity I hope to bring to the characters I get to portray. This project has been near and dear to my heart, not just because it is a piece I wrote, but because I have gotten to work and travel with my husband, David Forlano, who created the soundscape and video for the show. Our collaboration in life and work is a dream come true."
"Debrianna's writing and performance stand on their own," Forlano said. "My aim in building sound and video around her work was to nudge a bit more about the sense of time and place, without getting in the way of her stories. I think of it as adding a nostalgic dreamscape quality, rather than directly illustrated events. One of the things I find most rewarding is to hear audiences respond with shared reflections of their own family histories. This is a testament to Debrianna's generosity and empathy, that we all carry the stories that shape ourselves and relationships."
Forlano is in production as a sound artist with Circus Luminous for their fall show at the Lensic. He is also an acclaimed jeweler whose work can be found at Form and Concept Gallery in Santa Fe.
Mansini's social media for the show is filled with mouth-watering photos of her own daily creations in the kitchen, from grilled chicken to nectarine tarts. She has several upcoming television projects, including recurring roles in the Netflix series "Messiah," and opposite Vincent D'Onofrio in the new CBS series "Interrogation."
The Peñasco Theatre Collective is dedicated to fostering community-building, collective empowerment and social transformation through the arts. The historic Peñasco Theatre, built in 1940 by Amado Roybal, adjoins the Sugar Nymphs Bistro, a farm-to-table restaurant. Sugar Nymphs' owner and pastry chef Ki has baked most of her professional life, and the restaurant has earned high praise.
For this run of performances, Mansini has invited Chef Ki to prepare a meatball special during the weekend of the show. The bistro will be open for pretheater dinner on Saturday beginning at 4:30 p.m., and serves Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"I'm excited to have the bistro aboard," said Mansini. "Chef Ki has graciously offered to join the fun and will make something incredible. She has mad skills and her food is just fantastic."
The show is directed by Tanya Taylor Rubenstein, with guest director Laura Gardner. For more information, call (575) 587-2726.