GOLDEN TONGUES, in their own words:
We invited the extraordinary writers who recently participated in our adaptation initiative to reflect on the process. Here is Lina Patel, whose ‘Traces of Desire’ was presented at LA ESCENA 2022:
Over a year ago, I was commissioned by Playwright’s Arena and UCLA to adapt a play of my choosing for UCLA’s Diversifying the Classics. I was thrilled to discover Golden Tongues. I was dizzy with the choices of Golden Age Spanish-language comedies and tragedies available to me. But I wanted to choose early. Like most playwrights/TV writers, I am always juggling several projects at once. Also, I am process-oriented. I wanted time to research; to try out different approaches before landing on one fertile enough for exploration. If I can sustain my own interest, I figure I will, ultimately, sustain the audience’s. Lope de Vega’s The Widow of Valencia was not my first choice. In my theater work I typically write dramas. I go for the jugular, often setting family dysfunction against geopolitical disarray. Widow was a comedy, a romantic comedy at that, and it was wildly silly. It also packed a punch. As I discussed the play with Barbara and Aina, dramaturges and collaborators extraordinaire, I saw what they knew: that Lope had written a crowd-pleasing comedy about a woman who will do anything in service to her desire. The summer of 2021 had me thinking about how in America and elsewhere, we were going backwards with regards to women’s autonomy. #MeToo was in our rearview. Bad behavior and systemic inequalities were still being discussed, but I felt that women’s rights and treating women as full and fully free human beings, world-wide, were again being undermined at best and attacked at worst. Also, as far as we’ve come in our awareness and support of women, there are still expectations of women, certainly of mothers and definitely of women of a certain age. Expectations that do not exist for straight, cis men. Fortunately, I had an invitation to return to a writer’s retreat shortly after choosing Widow to adapt and that’s where I began the work of figuring out how to tell Lope’s story, but update it to and for women today and to place it in Los Angeles – two requests of the commission. Otherwise, the adaptation was wide open. Freedom meant chaos at first and for months I discarded ideas which felt too political or which bored me and circled closer and closer to home. What does it mean to be a widow in America today? What does it mean to be an Indian widow in America today? What did it mean for my grandmother, who was widowed in Bombay, at the age of 35? By winter I had begun a multi-generational exploration of widowhood, examining a grandmother, mother, and daughter who felt “cursed” by it. What would it take to break the curse? Marriage? Or overcoming ingrained self-censure and claiming one’s body, humanity, and desire? And would my protagonist, an Indian American woman in Los Angeles, finally be able to do what her mother and grandmother could not? Thus began Traces of Desire, which expanded to include motherhood as well has widowhood. As a mother, and a woman, I gave my widows children to raise alone after their husbands died. Then, from winter to spring the play really took off. While I departed greatly from Lope’s plot and lost several characters, I tried hard to keep the spirit of fun and, like him, dispense with Aristotelean notions of space and time. I also wanted very much for it to be a crowd-pleaser. And that meant, for me, that in the end, my youngest widow would not end happily ever after in marriage, but would enjoy her young lover, set him free, and be ready to claim her desire again and again, as surely all women ought to do if they wish.