How imperceptive of critics to employ a hackneyed word like telenovela in reviews of her works, Karen Zacarías thought. To decimate the complexity of her plays and haphazardly homogenize the works of Latino and Latina playwrights was altogether reprehensible and worthy of correction.
“Critics, when they talk about our works, sometimes use the word telenovela to describe a really intense emotion on stage and it’s a very glib way of dismissing high-caliber work,” Zacarías, an award-winning playwright, says. “And I was like, you know that play is not a telenovela. You want to see a telenovela. I will show you what a real telenovela looks and feels like.”
Thus, where conventional dictionaries fail to capture the essence of telenovelas with reductive comparisons to American soap operas, Zacarías strives to elucidate. Reimagining the traditionally televised storytelling technique for theater, Zacarías brings an all-Latino cast – for the first time in a decade – to Arena Stage with “Destiny of Desire.”
“The act of having a new play with 11 Latino actors on stage with live music, a Latino director and a Latina playwright is very hard to come by – a theater that will take the risk to say that this story is worth the investment and we believe that audiences will come to it,” Zacarías says.
Set in Mexico, where Zacarías was born, the play navigates the intersections of race, class and gender with comedic flair and reverence for Latino culture. Two infant girls of disparate social classes open the play – one born into a life of grandeur and the other into abject poverty. Their destinies become inextricably linked, when a beauty queen swaps the newborns, setting off a sophisticated tale, replete with humor-laced criticisms and enthralling drama.
“The play is about people learning to take destiny into their own hand,” Zacarías says. “It explores how justice works for the rich family and how justice works for the poor family, who ends up in jail, who doesn’t. And it always seems the poor family pays so much more for life than the rich family.”
When writing the play, Zacarías had not anticipated such an intricate plot to emerge nor did she expect musical numbers – from Rancheras and Cumbias sung sometimes in English and other times Spanish – to become story elements. Early on, however, she decided it would be a comedy.
“You can sometimes make a point in a subtle more interesting way when people are laughing,” Zacarías says. “Sometimes laughter allows you to go a little further in discussing something than a drama does because people are seemingly unaware — like political humor, there’s an edge to that. Just because people are laughing doesn’t mean there aren’t serious points.”
Artistically, Zacarías hopes the play will shift the way people understand telenovelas, not as lowbrow, but rather high-end creative works. Politically, she would like the play to cement Latino and Latina belonging in the American narrative and theater.
“One of our most iconic forms of storytelling needs to be explored, shared, celebrated, criticized and tested,” Zacarias states. “It’s all about unabashedly owning things that are a big part of our culture, and then transforming them at the same time. So I hope theaters realize there is a Latino audience — that Latino stories are worth telling and that they can be entertaining, political and smart.”
To puchase tickets visit: http://www.arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/productions/destiny-of-desire/
KAREN ZACARÍAS (Playwright) has written award-winning plays including The Book Club Play, Legacy of Light, Mariela in the Desert, The Sins of Sor Juana, the adaptations of Just Like Us and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent and many more. She collaborated on the libretto for Sleepy Hollow and Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises for the Washington Ballet. The 2016 season will see world premieres of her plays Destiny of Desire at Arena Stage; Native Gardens at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Oliverio: A Brazilian Twist at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Ella Enchanted: The Musical at First Stage and Into the Beautiful North at Milagro Theater. She is one of the inaugural resident playwrights at Arena Stage and is a core founder of the Latino Theatre Commons. She is the founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, an award-winning theater company that teaches playwriting in local public schools in Washington, D.C. Karen lives in D.C. with her husband and three children.
José Vasquez is an alumnus of the University of Maryland at College Park. He has worked with The Diamondback, the university’s independent daily, and La Voz Latina, the only Latino-interest publication on campus. His writing has been featured in Kesta Happening DC, the Public Asian and Patch.com. Follow him on Twitter @vasquezreports