Is it possible to write a new play? I recall a friend, who was taking a creative writing class some years ago, saying that there are 13 story-lines that make up all of Western literature. I can not say that I ever tried to figure out what they were, but I suspect that we all know those story-lines. Hebrew scriptures, Greek and Roman epic poems, Elizabethan theatre, Romantic novels, early radio dramas, TV soap operas and sit-coms retell the same plots that we all know: babies swapped in the hospital, brothers and sisters separated in childhood who unknowingly meet in adulthood, lovers who are not whom they present themselves to be, the rich and poor, etc. Put all those together into a two-and-a-half hour play for Karen Zacarias’s world-premier of Destiny of Desire at Arena Stage.
To cram all those plot twists into that amount of time, the cast has to work quickly, which give Destiny of Desire its comic, farcical energy. Given Zacarias’ intent to write a play for an all-Hispanic cast, she not only showcases their talents, acting, singing, and dancing, but transports us into the telenovela (e.g. Latin soap opera) tradition. Before the first lines, the actors start arriving to a stage set up as a wardrobe room. They don their costumes, even going into the audience to ask for assistance with zippers, robes, and head scarves. Then, just as quickly as a daily soap opera crew needs to shoot scenes, they are off and running with this show with which the Marx Brothers would have enjoyed sprinting.
I will not even try to outline the major characters or events in the plot. Should the show come to a theatre in your town, you will be able to follow all the familiar themes as they unfold. The question I ponder more is why do we continue to write these same stories into our magazine articles, novels, TV shows, movies, and plays? Tradition? Familiarity? Cultural continuity? Hope that the happy ending can actually happen, or dread that the tragic ending must come to pass? Destiny?
A science-minded viewer might dismiss a play like Destiny of Desire as a hilarious romp. Something to enjoy, but nothing to walk away with. Some wishful-thinking with no prospect of character development. However, Zacarias jars us out of each scene at the moment of climax, by stopping the action, spotlighting one of the characters who recites a statistic. Behind the emotion and drama of a scene, each part of a story which we all know, is a fact. Statistics about coming of age, falling in love, cheating, incarceration, etc. demonstrate what are the truths in the stories. While the plot may be an exaggeration, maybe what we seek in the truth behind the story.