Shortly before the 2015 world premiere of her play Destiny of Desire, Karen Zacarías spoke about the inspiration for her work and her love of telenovelas.
Linda Lombardi: What was your inspiration behind writing Destiny of Desire?
Karen Zacarías: So often when a Latino dramatist writes a serious play, the jargon critics use to describe certain dramatic moments is “telenovela.” That always seems a way of dismissing high-caliber work. Destiny of Desire is an act of rebellion, of heritage, and of joy, in trying to write the best telenovela I could. Most telenovelas last six months to a year. Could I pack a year’s worth of story into two hours? Plus add live music and original songs? I wanted to take something that’s been created for television and transport it into a wildly theatrical experience. And also, give work to all these talented Latino theater artists who don’t get to be on stage as often as they should. Destiny of Desire is an aesthetic, artistic and political endeavor. It was also a challenge to myself and to others on every level—and it’s been one of the most joyful experiences to write.
LL: How did the play start for you? Was it a character, or a particular scene, or the setting?
KZ: I had the idea four years ago, and I must have started seven different versions of the play, but none of them gained traction. The stakes weren’t high enough. It wasn’t juicy enough. And then I woke up in the middle of the night and realized—this is Brechtian! It needed to be both Aristotelian theater and Brechtian theater. The moment I had the idea that it was a theater troupe putting on a telenovela as if it was Greek drama, suddenly the whole thing opened up for me. When I found the dramaturgical language of the play, the plot came soaring in.
LL: What attracts you to telenovelas?
KZ: What I find interesting about telenovelas is the ambivalence you feel at first. But you watch one scene and before you know it, you find yourself pulled in; you’re hooked. Destiny plays with that energy. It starts out as funny, heightened situations, but by the end, you care deeply about the fate of these characters.
LL: How does the play-within-the-play structure you’ve created affect the action of the play?
KZ: The play-within-the-play is examining what the telenovela does to the people who watch it. And the possibilities that changing the storylines opens up for other actors. If a Latino actor is always relegated to playing the maid or the chauffeur or the gardener, why don’t we go deeper into that story? Who are the secondary characters, and who are the primary ones? It’s also thematic of the whole play—trying to change your destiny. Actors start changing the script and that affects the plot, which affects the whole community.
The structure plays with the idea that every decision that happens on stage in the story affects everybody off stage. And vice versa. There’s a ripple effect. It’s also a celebration of theater. You get something by watching a live play. I love the theater; you can get story anywhere, but you cannot get that feeling of being a part of a community the same way as you can in the theater. So this may be an homage to telenovelas, but it’s also a love letter to the theater.
LL: Why was it important to you to have an all-Latino cast?
KZ: It was important because it’s something that happens so rarely in the theater. American audiences will see something with a very different aesthetic and plot than most of the other plays on stage now. It will feel different, sound different. And it’s so nice to get something exciting and new. It’s playing with every expectation—from the casting, to the storytelling, to the music. I hope people will come and be deeply entertained, but also understand that there are so many messages about gender, class and race at the same time.
LL: What does destiny mean to you?
KZ: Destiny is different from fate. Destiny is what your life can be if you realize your potential, if you believe in your potential and you go for it. Destiny is not something that happens to you; it’s something you have to strive for. Unlike fate, which is something that’s sealed and locked, destiny is fluid and can evolve. Who you were and who you can become is within your grasp, but it also requires some kind of faith in the community.
Buy tickets and learn more about Destiny of Desire here. Tickets start at just $20!