“The moment the play is in our hands, it is ours”. A conversation with Oscar Rodríguez Quiroz - Diversifying the Classics
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“The moment the play is in our hands, it is ours”. A conversation with Oscar Rodríguez Quiroz

“When I studied Theater as an undergrad, we would cover Molière, Shakespeare, Goldoni, and so forth, but no Hispanic author” said Óscar Rodríguez Quiroz, director of Sor Juana’s Love Is the Greater Labyrinth for Michigan State University’s Department of Theatre. First as a drama teacher in Honduras and now as an Artist-Educator and MFA Acting Candidate at Michigan State, Quiroz decided to explore the rich Hispanic tradition and turned to the famous Mexican writer Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, known for her protofeminism as well as her remarkable poetry and plays.

Love Is the Greater Labyrinth is a mythological drama that sidelines the victory of Theseus over the Minotaur and instead focuses on an amusing love triangle between Theseus and the princesses Fedra and Ariana. It was first staged in 1689 as part of the inauguration of Gaspar de la Cerda y Mendoza as viceroy of New Spain. Among many other things, the play offers models for good and not-so-good rule, with Theseus as virtuous leader and the tyrant Minos as his opposite, both presented for the incoming viceroy to consider. Sor Juana’s characteristic subtlety allows her to offer pointed criticisms of what too much power can do.

Sor Juana is one of the greatest writers of all times and an iconic figure of Mexican culture. However, some of Quiroz’s students who self-identify as Mexican or Mexican-American were surprised to learn that she was an early modern poet. “In the United States, there is a longstanding dissociation between Mexican (or Latin American) identity and the notion of classical theater. My colleagues of Latin American ancestry never studied Mexican authors while they studied classical theater in the United States and most Hispanic students here are unaware of this rich literary tradition.” Might the history of Spanish colonization create mistrust and rejection among Hispanic audiences? Quiroz argues that ignoring the colonial past only perpetuates alienation. In this sense, performance serves to decolonize the canon and address the past: “The moment the play is in our hands, it is ours. We can look directly in the eyes of the Minotaur, ‘take the bull by the horns’ and address not only former but also present colonial tensions.”

Quiroz’s adaptation introduces elements of Latin American and Mesoamerican popular culture in dialogue with the colonial reality of the time. “Sones” and “cumbias” are part of the background music and dance transforms the text into movement. Even though Sor Juana wrote for the viceregal court, Quiroz was interested in situating her work in relation to popular theater, so the team imagined what Love Is the Greater Labyrinth might have looked like if it had premiered in a corral or a square during a local fair. They used the masquerade in the second act to introduce the traditional torito (little bull) and diablitos (little devils) dances, very popular in Mesoamerica. Quiroz explains: “In these dances, the masked diablitos confront the torito in the streets over several days. If the Minotaur is a symbol of tyranny, this scene presents our protagonists resisting oppression through the body and dance. Pedro Vargas Pérez notes that in the version of the dance of the diablitos performed by the Boruca people in Costa Rica, the bull represents the Spanish conqueror, since the bull is a beast brought from Europe.” For the director, plays from an earlier period can help air urgent contemporary questions: “In Love Is the Greater Labyrinth, Crete is an island surrounded by the Athenians. It strongly reminds me of US interventions in several islands of the Caribbean in the 1970s. I want to explore this further in my next productions of Love.”

Quiroz notes that incorporating the Hispanic legacy in theater will require a deeper engagement with its central texts: “Some students asked me if Sor Juana had read Shakespeare. That is when one realizes that deconstructing the canon is imperative.” In this sense, Quiroz finds Diversifying the Classics’ work to translate the corpus extremely valuable: “Apart from the fact that the translations are terrific, I really appreciate that they are made to be staged – they have passion!”

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