In an energetic, uproariously funny reading audiences will not want to miss, up-and-coming playwright Adrienne Dawes debuted her play “This Bitch: Esta Sangre Quiero,” a rollicking, bilingual spin on a classic theatrical masterpiece.
A cast of UA students and alumni, directed by Colombian-American director and producer Estefanía Fadul, performed the spirited reading Friday. It was recorded and will be available for viewing on YouTube this week.
The play by Dawes, a second-year MFA playwriting student, is the first featured work in the UA Department of Theatre’s fully remote ArkType New Play Festival, which runs through Feb. 13. The first iteration of the festival took place in 2018, with a second year of readings and fully staged performances scheduled for April of 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and cancellation of in-person classes on the UA campus, department officials canceled and rescheduled the festival, with an online format, for the beginning of the Spring 2021 semester.
“This Bitch,” a modern take on Lope de Vega’s Golden Age classic “El perro del hortelano,” tells the story of Diana, an insufferably vain Instagram influencer and self-described “pansexual pilates slut,” and the unfortunate members of her publicity, security and glamor teams.
When Diana, hilariously portrayed by second-year MFA theater performance major Ana Miramontes, discovers that two of her staff members are in a relationship, she becomes fiercely jealous and determined to destroy their happiness. Although one half of the couple, Diana’s social media manager Teodoro, is far below Diana’s status in terms of fame and social media followers, she becomes enamored and obsessed with him, embarking upon an “if I can’t have him, no one can” vendetta.
The farcical tale set in a luxury resort in Tulum, Mexico, where some of the internet’s biggest influencers have gathered for a beachside convention, features a colorful cast of eccentric and often absurd characters. Diana’s ragtag team ranges from loud, boisterous makeup artist Madeinusa, to constantly drunk, anti-romantic assistant Tristán, to bumbling security guard Fabio, who at one point mistakenly accepts an offer to execute a hit on his best friend.
Perhaps the most memorable and funniest secondary character in the play is a 28-year-old fictional version of Jojo Siwa, not-so-subtly named Coco Wawa, who is, ironically, deeply closeted yet widely recognized by the LGBTQ community as a “queer icon.” Leah Smith, a second-year MFA acting student, perfectly captured the essence of what the peppy child star might be like if she were still doing her signature act 11 years from now. She even chose the perfect sparkly bow.
The colorfully dressed, high-ponied popstar is never too far from her disinterested yet vindictive “momager,” who vows revenge on Diana after she backs out of a “relationship contract” with Coco. Dawes’ writing perfectly and hysterically captures the ludicrous, mildly disturbing nature of these types of child star-parent relationships.
“This Bitch” is written mostly in English, with short scenes and portions of scenes that are performed in Spanish or a mix of Spanish and English. As a Spanish minor actively taking multiple language courses, I was able to follow the dialogue pretty well.
However, I expect that even those with little to no knowledge of the Spanish language would be able to enjoy the play, even if they did not understand portions of it. I think there are enough context clues during the Spanish portions of the play, including the tone and body language of the characters delivering the dialogue, and the situations that they are in, that most people will understand the general idea without compromising their understanding of the plot. For those with an intermediate knowledge of the language, the Spanish subtitles that accompany the reading might help significantly as well.
In fact, it is not the bilingual nature of the play that made it a bit hard for me to follow at times, but rather its intertwining of several convoluted, often chaotic storylines featuring the various characters.
These included subplots involving Coco and her mother, a blossoming love story between resort maid Alma and groundskeeper Olmo, and the pointedly over-the-top flamboyance of Diana’s stylist Armando. And that’s to say nothing of the absolutely bonkers storyline involving the impersonation of a fictional version of the Puerto Rican megastar Bad Bunny.
Although all the narratives were wildly funny and surprisingly touching, their sheer number and complexity sometimes made for a confusing ride. The often overwhelming, in-your-face nature of the Zoom production — for example, all kissing scenes involved the actors shoving their mouths into their webcams — did not exactly help the situation.
That being said, I do think this play will be much easier to follow, and much more enjoyable to experience, when it is fully staged with costumes, sets, lighting, transitions and props. The humorous stage directions and whimsical design choices that sophomore Morgan Brown narrated during the reading also made me excited to see what a full production of Dawes’ work will look like.
Regardless of how long it is before “This Bitch” can be staged in a real theater with a live audience, it is clear that Dawes is a rising star to follow closely — and you should probably start right now.
A video recording of Friday’s Zoom reading is available for free viewing through Monday.