Review: This Bitch - Diversifying the Classics
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Review: This Bitch

By Laura Muñoz

This Bitch Will Have Her Day: A New Adaptation of El perro del hortelano

Playwright Adrienne Dawes’s excellent adaptation ofLope 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 representation, are perhaps more primed than ever for the comedia. 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, recontextualizes the importance of honor and reputation for a 21st century audience with stunning accuracy. In This Bitch the delicate balancing act between desire and reputation that nobles attempt 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.

Beyond the successful adaptation of early modern themes, Dawes also provides a wonderful playground for bilingual actors to bring their communities to life. The success of this adaptation can be seen even in the title, which 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 to survive their jobs, 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, first performed as part of the 2021 Arktype Festival, returned to the Zoom stage for two nights as part of the New American Theater Festival in mid-October, with hopes for a stage production in the near future.

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