The power of language creates worlds, realms and most importantly, relationships. In the Nevada Repertory Company's production of "Juanita's Statue," that power is evident as Juanita, a young woman living in a Spanglish-speaking land, tries on a different persona in order to escape from her lover's angry father and potential shame in her community. "Juanita's Statue" is the company's next world premiere following "Hamlet in Original Pronunciation," which was performed at the University of Nevada, Reno last fall.
Commissioned in 1999 by the New York Shakespeare Festival, now known as the Public Theater, playwright Anne García-Romero wrote "Juanita's Statue" as a comedic exploration of the very complex relationships within the Latino and Anglo cultures. García-Romero traveled to Spain as a graduate student at the Yale School of Drama, and fell in love with Spanish Golden Age comedies when she experienced Tirso de Molina's "Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes" ("Don Gill Green Stockings") live on stage.
"I was greatly impressed and chose to dive into Tirso's works, especially the completely compelling 'The Trickster of Seville,' the first Don Juan play," shared García-Romero. "From that story, the seeds of 'Juanita's Statue' grew and blossomed into the play it is today."
Don't be fooled. This is not a simple re-hashing of the Don Juan tale we all know. This new play is flavored by, "Don Juan with a very modern, feminist spin on it," explains García-Romero. With the diverse cast of 12 players, the comedy is shared with the audience in a way that pulls on the heart as well.
García-Romero works as a Moreau Postdoctoral Fellow in Theater at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as well as teaching playwriting online at the University of Nevada, Reno. For this production, she is collaborating directly with the entire cast, crew and director, Stacey Spain, a theater and dance instructor at the University.
Spain said, "The opportunity to work with a playwright willing to collaborate with this young cast is phenomenal. She welcomed us into her creative process. You won't get that experience doing Shakespeare or 'My Fair Lady.'"
García-Romero Skyped into the first read-through and flew to Reno to attend rehearsals to create that collaboration. With this process, the actors have been able to ask questions, provide feedback and really understand who their characters are and why the playwright developed that particular character.
Lead actress Sarah Rodriquez concurred. "Working with the playwright is interesting. She is willing to be fluid and hear our input about these characters."
Rodriquez is a McQueen High School graduate working on her bachelor of fine arts degree in theatre with a minor in Spanish. Already familiar with the story of Don Juan, the junior is deepening her understanding of her role.
"I'm slowly discovering that it is okay to be alone before finding your way in life, finding happiness first for yourself," she added.
This production of "Juanita's Statue" is a world premiere. The blank slate of its first stage production allows the University student cast and crew the unique opportunity to gain experience and make bold moves. There is a level of freedom to truly delve into the script. With no book, movie or previous production history to reference, there is no expectation to replicate a certain experience of the play. It is completely up to the players to deliver the story moment by moment and make it their own. To create an original work for the stage is a huge gift for everyone involved.
García-Romero will be in the audience on opening night to really "learn what the play is," she said. "It's the only true way to know what the audience is experiencing. I need to be in the room."
Chair of the Theatre and Dance Department at the University, Rob Gander believes that it is up to the universities and colleges around the country to showcase new works from artists, playwrights, musicians and authors. Gander explained his passion for new works.
"The economic meltdown created an environment where it's tougher for playwrights to get new works fully staged. These opportunities are few and far between in the professional arena. We have less responsibility to the box office and can help playwrights like García-Romero see full versions of their scripts. New works can be risky. Being at a university, we can take that risk."
Getting produced or published is challenging. An artist can receive hundreds of rejection letters before finally receiving the yes. García-Romero has had many of her plays work-shopped and produced. It starts with a conversation and she offers a bit of wisdom.
"Find those who understand your work. Have them get behind it. Always keep writing. Most importantly, plug into like-minded theatres, artists, classmates, communities and professionals. Those are the ones who will support you, help you and guide you."
Life's journey starts with language. Just like the young woman in "Juanita's Statue," exploring new things, new friends and new places will open up new worlds to help discover our true being.
To learn more about Anne García-Romero, go to www.annegarciaromero.com.
Performances of "Juanita's Statue" are March 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11 at 1:30 p.m. in the Redfield Studio Theatre in the Church Fine Arts Building on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Free parking for all School of the Arts events is available after 7 p.m. in the Brian Whalen Parking Complex, north of Church Fine Arts. A patron drop-off area is located in front of Church Fine Arts on North Virginia Street just north of College Drive. For event and ticket details, visit the Department of Arts Website or call (775) 784-4278.