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October 3, 2015

Karen Zacarías' Destiny of Desire in 3D

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. Destiny-of-Desire-Birth.jpgShe 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.destiny-2Girls.jpg

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.


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

Photos: C.-Stanley-Photography

October 6, 2015

Finding They in As One, An Opera on Transgender

The world of a transgender is confusing for everyone.

o-AS-ONE-CREATIVE-570.jpgIn As One, a new chamber opera by composer Laura Kaminsky with libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, two players are scripted to represent one character that is evolving as a woman named Hannah. At the Atlas Performing Arts Center for four performances in October 2015, As One presented by UrbanArias and developed by American Opera Projects features baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco as Hanna Before and mezzo-soprano Ashley Cutright as Hannah After.

This 75-minute opera unfolds in three parts and is accompanied by an active string quartet conducted by Robert Wood, the general director of UrbanArias. The Dresser says active because the first person on stage is the lead violinist Sarah D'Angelo and at the end of the opera, D'Angelo comes back on stage. The Dresser wouldn't call her playing solos. It was more like a gesture to acknowledge the importance of the music, which is tonal, lyrical, and persistently forward flowing in the way the Dresser hears the music of Philip Glass. During the opera, the musicians are called upon to vocalize and during Part II, they sing a few phrases of "Silent Night." Wood also leads the audience in a recitation of John Donne's poem "No Man Is an Island."

The fact that Orozco and Cutright are aspects of the same character was made visually clear when the two players stand opposite each other in an opening mirror scene. A stand out scene was the luminous projection baritone Orozco effects as he delivers newspapers. His ability to mime riding a bicycle while tossing newspapers and emoting the joy of his feminine qualities is remarkable. His command of his vocal line was equally impressive. The accomplished singing and acting of Ashley Cutright also enhanced his performance.

The Dresser was impressed that the story was not sentimental or overly dramatized. Some of the themes dealt with include family issues (how to tell Mom and Dad), limited sex education, isolation, loneliness, hate-based violence, and moving away (the character takes refuge in Norway). One particularly interesting conceit applied to the story is the act of writing. Part I includes a number entitled "Cursive" and deals with Hannah's teacher who criticizes--the Dresser is going to use the plural pronoun as many transgenders prefer--their writing. In Part II, Hannah writes a letter home (instead of calling) to say they won't be going home for the Christmas holidays. Essentially Hannah is not yet able to explain the gender change. Hannah loves their parents but the parents don't understand what is going on with their child. Part III, Hannah writes a dozen postcards to the outside world and signs with her new name. She feels she has gotten beyond her teacher's criticism of her handwriting.

Behind the singers ran mostly landscape video projections by Kimberly Reed, an independent filmmaker from New York City as well as the co-librettist who contributed some of her personal story to this opera.

The production is first rate. All the parts work together. It is a moving tribute to people who go through gender transformation.

In Sue Ellen Thompson's poem "Home" from her collection They, the reader hears the voice of a mother who is parent to a transgender person. The mother is talking about herself but the edges reach out to her child in confusing ways with words like straight, endless years of grade-school, retreat, circumstances force you, they have to, and the word begins to rise from deep inside. What the straight loved ones of the transgender learn is that language and grammar have a new gravitas. This gravitas about the written word comes across clearly in As One.


The place your parents brought you straight
from the hospital, where you spent
those endless years of grade-
school. Or maybe it's the place
where you raised your own
children, where you were never alone.
The place you retreat to after the divorce,
or when circumstances force
you to go there. According to Frost,
they have to--but you know the rest.

Who can say for how many weeks
after moving you will lie awake,
staring at the clock-radio, before
you stop listening for the pre-dawn roar
of traffic down your former street--
before the word begins to rise from deep
inside somewhere as you approach
the yellow blinker at Main and Oak,
which, like the porch light your mother
flicked off and on when you and your first lover
were parked at the darkest edge of the lawn,
reminds you where you belong.

Sue Ellen Thompson
from They

copyright © 2014 Sue Ellen Thompson

October 24, 2015

Finding Family Stories in the DC Immigration FilmFest

The Greater Washington Immigration Filmfest runs this year from October 22 to 25, 2015, in often non-traditional venues in and around the Nation's capital. In the first two days, Dresser saw two outstanding films Buen Día (Guten Tag), Ramón and On the Bride's Side (Io Sto Con La Sposa).

With the current situation of mass migration of refugees, particularly from Syria, into Europe, both films provide timely insight into what today's immigrants are facing.

Ramon.jpgBuen Día (Guten Tag), Ramón by Jorge Ramírez-Suárez is a fictitious saga of a young Mexican man who tries unsuccessfully five times to cross into the United States. A friend suggests that he should go to Germany where this friend has an aunt living there with a German boyfriend. He surmounts the travails of traveling abroad based on a hard-earned windfall only to get the door slammed in his face in winter weather. When he tries to return home, he can't afford the surcharge for returning earlier than planned and so he panhandles in front of a small grocery store where he becomes friends with a lonely old woman named Ruth who gives him shelter and access to the other pensioners in her building. Eventually his luck runs out (he is denounced by a crotchety neighbor) and he is deported back to Mexico.

While Ramón never learns many German words during his short stay in his protector's care, his ability to communicate through dance and willingness to work is so infectious that he earns a lifetime of financial benefit from the ailing woman. One scene particularly stands out where they are both speaking animatedly of their lives and backgrounds without the other being able to understand the words. Ruth details how her father protected a Jewish family during WWII at great peril to himself. Ramón who is not particularly religious sees her as his guardian angel.

A talkback session at the Goethe Institute after the film with Julián Escutia (Mexican Embassy) and Victoria Rietig (Migration Policy Institute) provided invaluable insight about the reality of this film, including the number of Mexicans immigrating to Germany and how successful they are in staying there. While the numbers are not large, at the time this film was made (2013 and released August 2014), not very many deportations were taking place. Now, however, immigration and deportation policies are changing rapidly in Germany and other parts of Europe.

On the Bride's Side (Io Sto Con La Sposa) by Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele del Grande, and Khaled Soliman al Nassiry is a documentary that was released in November 2014. The premise of the film is a group of Italians escort five illegal immigrants (Palestinians and Syrians) from Milan to Sweden. Using a cover story that they are a wedding party, they travel three thousand kilometers while unfolding the harrowing stories of these refugees. One of the Italians is a newly naturalized Palestinian poet who lets tears fall as he explains that he has never had a country to call home before. The drama of this documentary resides with these unrehearsed immigrants: an old married couple who had never traveled before, a father and his teenage rapper son who barely made it alive from Syria to the Italian coast, a young man who played the bridegroom, and a young woman who played the bride.Bride-Side.jpg

Gabriele del Grande, both co-director and player in the film, provided in-person answers to a large audience at the Washington Ethical Society viewing the film. He said part of the magic of making this film happen was the young woman from Palestine masquerading as the bride wearing a long flowing bridal gown on the entire trip. He said there was only one instance where police approached them and that was as they rode a train from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Sweden. Given the open borders of the European Union, they all knew the most difficult part of the trip would be through Denmark where they would encounter a more conservative approach. However, the Danish police interaction was merely to say congratulations to the bride and bridal party. This was an un-filmed episode that del Grande said they could hardly ask the Danish police to re-enact given they could all be arrested.

Kudos to the organizers of the DC Immigration Filmfest as led by Patricia Absher. The two films seen by the Dresser were greatly enhanced by the talkback sessions following each film.

In "What I Am Taking Home," Joseph Zealberg speaks to the stories of family life across generations and events like war. Both Buen Día (Guten Tag), Ramón and On the Bride's Side (Io Sto Con La Sposa) are rooted in family life, the actual biological lineage and the new bonds under difficult circumstances that become familial as immigrants-refugees enter territories as unfamiliar as the outer space mentioned by Joe Zealberg.


The teal color, the black collar of my father's jacket.
The air around the aluminum cane he leans on
now that he can wield it like an M-1 with fixed bayonet.
Mother waving from the condo's second floor window
as if my son and I were embarking on a spaceship journey.
No buttered warm cornbread or a cherry cheesecake slice,
no purple borscht heavy with sour cream.
Maybe something from the cosmos, the blessing of their eyes.
An old Yiddish tune she sang before the Holocaust.
Dad as a child, hiding in Dirty Eddy's Bar--
watching Tuffy Craig pull a miniature Chihuahua
from the pocket of his old miner's coat.
How "Dog" wobbled the bar, licking a whiskey trail.
And the story of my grandfather, Joseph,
who wanted my father to learn the construction trade.
Too young, Dad looked up at the wooden scaffolding and cried,
I don't want to climb up there, Pop, I'm afraid!
Joseph pranced on the tallest angle of the roof,
laughing, kicking his feet, outlined in clouds.
Yes, my parents--like that. Dance steps on a beam.

Joseph Zealberg
from Covalence

copyright © 2015 Joseph Zealberg

About October 2015

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in October 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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