As part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival, the Arena Stage at the Kreeger Theater is premiering Karen Zacarías' Destiny of Desire, a comic melodrama with edge. Zacarías' laugh out loud comedy is based on the telenovela, but specific to the Mexican approach, which in the 1970s and 1980s pioneered using this limited run version of the TV soap opera to shape social behavior, such as influencing people on the ideas of family planning. The Dresser, who saw this two-hour (plus 15-minute intermission) performance on October 2, 2015, says edge because Zacarías embraces a Brechtian and Shakespearean frame.
Typically the story of the telenovela involves a convoluted set of relationships. In Destiny of Desire two couples--one rich, one poor--show up in the ill-equipped hospital of Bellarica, Mexico, to give birth to what will be for each their only child. Fabiola Castillo (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), the rich mother who nearly dies in childbirth, rejects her sickly underweight daughter and demands custody of the healthy baby girl born to the farmer Ernesto del Rio (Carlos Gómez) and his wife. She bribes Doctor Jorge Ramiro Mendoza (Oscar Ceville) so he can buy equipment for the hospital but Sister Sonia (Marian Licha) is morally outraged and wants to stop this from happening. However, the nun gives in because the doctor says the healthy baby will get a better life with the Castillos who own the local casino while the sick baby who will die from a weak heart will be replaced by the farmer and his wife with another baby. To sweeten the deal, Fabiola promises to hire the poor mother to help care for the stolen daughter. Most of the action of the play takes place 18 years later when both daughters have reached maturity and are ripe for falling in love.
While the melodrama unfolds with the return of Armando Castillo's banished son Sebastian (Nicholas Rodriguez) and the revelation that Dr. Mendoza is in love with Hortensia del Rio (the farmer's wife as played by Rayanne Gonzales), running commentary voices over with such facts as how much money it costs to raise a child in the United States of America and how many Americans are waiting for heart transplants. Yes, Victoria Maria del Rio (Elia Saldaña) needs a heart transplant.
The Brechtian influences can be seen even before the play officially begins as the actors congregate on stage changing into their costumes and interacting emotionally with each other, sometimes showing what a particular actor doesn't want to do as a particular character. Bertolt Brecht's philosophy of epic theater was to shake up the practice of theater arts and one way he promoted this was to have the actor simultaneous be him- or herself as well as the character. The running social commentary throughout Destiny of Desire plays to Brecht's predilection to find ways to keep the audience awake and motivated to think through what is happening on stage so that when the audience leaves the theater, they will act on the ideas and issues presented. Brecht's brand of staging comes through in Destiny of Desire in a barebones set that shows actors and musicians waiting in the wings along with the disorienting use of filmy curtains that move rapidly across the stage. There is nothing static about Zacarías' play.
While Shakespeare was known for convoluted relationships, he was also playing to the audience of his day by feeding them often amusingly presented details involving current events. Zacarías drops in such details and one especially memorable dig against a current Republican frontrunner for president of the United States was packaged as "not the same Donald Trump beauty pageant." The Dresser tips her hat to the playwright for just flashing the annoying reality TV would-be-president mogul without taking attention away from her play, which is both comic and dead serious. The end scene of Destiny of Desire has a decided echo of Shakespeare's As You Like It that ranges from kissing cousins, group weddings, and a woman getting the final say.
The acting is sublime in a way only Latino actors can get the delivery of words, song, and body language right for this particular play without over- or underdoing what is necessary. Kudos to José Luis Valenzuela for outstanding direction. The Dresser was also pleased with the original music by Rosino Serrano and the choreography by Robert Barry Fleming. Costume Designer Julie Weis absolutely got the Dresser's attention in the first dance number where almost everyone. including the men wore attention-getting shoes. The red suede loafers worn by Armando Castillo (Cástulo Guerra) trumped the scene where Victoria del Rio wearing Pilar Castillo's ("daughter" of Armando as played by Esperanza America) evening clothes loses a high-heel shoe in a Cinderella sequence.
So much went on in this play, the Dresser would like to go back and see it again. In fact, that Brechtian stop-action-and-restart technique used in Destiny of Desire was something the Dresser would have loved to impose herself to see exactly how certain scenes flowed so ably.
In "Watching Godzilla in 3D," Miles David Moore talks about the interaction immediacy between audience and monster movie made in three dimensions. What Karen Zacarias does with Destiny of Desire is move audience consciousness into dimensional space that transforms the often trancelike effect of theater to an immediacy that is visceral, such that people around the Dresser were clapping or cheering whenever a moment on stage arose to illicit such reactions. The Dresser thinks Zacarias achieved the 3D effect for her audience.
WATCHING GODZILLA IN 3D
This is your painless dose of shock and awe:
A mile of scaled and sinewed CGI
Arising from a pixel sea. Each claw
And fang engulfs the conflagrating sky.
Tokyo, Las Vegas, San Francisco crumble
In tune to Dolby's all-surrounding roar
As you applaud the glass and stone that tumble
Down from the screen and vanish toward the floor.
You're CGI yourself. On cue you smile
With all the film's insipid hireling crowd
At this tyrannosaurus-crocodile
Whose gaze you're primed to say is brave and proud.
That stomps back to its ocean, having killed
A world you didn't make, and can't rebuild.
by Miles David Moore
published in Poetry Alive, The Iota Poetry Series, 20th Anniversary Reading
"Watching Godzilla in 3D" copyright © 2015 Miles David Moore