This Bitch: Esta Sangre Quiero
By: Adrienne Dawes
Directed by: Sylvia Cervantes Blush
New American Theater Festival (virtual), October 2021
This Bitch: Esta Sangre Quiero
by: Laura Muñoz
Playwright Adrienne Dawes’s adaptation of Lope de Vega’s El perro del hortelano (1618), which becomes This Bitch: Esta Sangre Quiero (2021) in adaptation, reimagines the countess Diana as a social media influencer famous for her Pilates classes, showcasing how today’s audiences, especially those versed in the highly curated world of social media, are perhaps more primed than ever for the comedia. In This Bitch the delicate balancing act between desire and reputation that nobles must enact in comedia is reflected in social media personalities’ split between their authentic selves and the performative version of their lives displayed for followers to consume. Reputation, in both our current society and that of the comedia, is a means of survival, affecting both life and livelihood for those who live and die by the public eye.
This adaptation translates themes of identity as performance from the courts of the Habsburgs in early modern Spain to the court of public opinion on Instagram and Twitter. The tropes of the comedia are well met in the high melodrama of influencer culture, where the social divide between the two leads, a self-described #pansexual #pilatesslut and her social media manager, is as wide as that between a countess and her secretary—and requires just as many schemes to connect them. Although the screen-mediated world where the leading lady is a high-maintenance businesswoman in the vein of Kim Kardashian may seem a far cry from that of her early modern counterpart, this adaptation, under the direction of Sylvia Cervantes Blush for the New American Theater Festival, recontextualizes the importance of honor and reputation for a 21st century audience with stunning accuracy.
Beyond the successful adaptation of early modern themes, Dawes also provides a wonderful playground for bilingual actors to bring their communities to life. Indeed, the title gestures toward the idiomatic expression of the original play while transforming it into an idiom of modern popular culture: this bitch, a sign of exasperation about a person’s ongoing bad behavior. The adaptation, set in Tulum, Mexico, lives and breathes between English and Spanish in a way which encapsulates the rhythms of all kinds of bilingual speakers: those who can move freely between both languages, as in the case of Diana, a native speaker of Spanish who speaks English as a second language; those who use both languages at once, as with her makeup artist Madeinusa (pronounced maden-usa) who unabashedly speaks Spanglish in every context; those who know enough English or Spanish survive, such as the Spanish-speaking resort workers who know enough English to make it through the tourist season. Beyond these realistic representations of code-switching characters, Dawes also offers code-switching across centuries, as Lope’s original Spanish is maintained within the love letters Diana and her social media manager Teodoro write for each other.
The play text itself emphasizes the casting of diverse actors, as character descriptions call for fully bilingual speakers alongside non-fluent Spanglish speakers, Latino/x, Black, non-White, White actors, and genders described as M/F or masculine/femme person. The cast for the show is fairly young, with only Coco Wawa’s (after teen pop sensation Jojo Siwa) momager Sheila Wawa (think a very tired Kris Jenner) breaking from the pool of 20-year-olds. This lends the production the kind of high melodrama and frenetic energy found in the posts of social media influencers. Although some of the jokes are geared toward younger audiences plugged into the latest memes, the humor comes so often and so fast that missed references fly by easily.
There is a lot to enjoy in this play about putting up appearances, and yet Dawes also manages to ground a world of superficial reputation-mongering in moments of serious personal introspection, as well as in a subplot about resort workers trying to survive the influx of emotionally volatile US-based influencers in what the opening lines of the play refer to as “sustainable settler colonialism.” Like many subplots involving servants in comedia, the Alma and Olmo subplot, which follows the relationship of two Mexican nationals with different status within the organizational hierarchy of the resort, mirrors the issues of social status between Diana and Teodoro from the perspective of more vulnerable characters. While Diana risks her reputation in pursuing a man with lower social capital, Alma and Olmo risk their very livelihoods in pursuit of love.
Arktype Festival, January 2021 (Zoom)
New American Theater Festival, October 2021 (Zoom)
Sin Muros Festival, Houston, February 2022 (Stage Reading)
TheatreLab, Florida Atlantic University, July 2022 (Stage Reading)
Workshop Presentation, University of Arkansas, Sept-Oct 2022