Playwright Caridad Svich’s latest play Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was commissioned by the Repertorio Español last October. The comedy, based on a novel inspired by the real-life accounts of author Mario Vargas-Llosa, follows a young writer in the 1950s that falls for a divorced and older woman. The play debuted Oct. 10th in Manhattan.
Growing up, Svich lived in seven different states. Her father worked in the textile business. Svich said, “He worked his way up to what we would call a colorist—the person that picks what colors go inside a pattern.” Her father’s transfers gave Svich the opportunity to study America by looking at its back roads and backyards. Her experiences inspired her writing, in particular the range of characters she would later bring to life in award-winning performances. Hip Latina spoke to Svich recently to get her thoughts on choosing the right text to adapt, the treatment of women in theater, and more. Here is that conversation:
Hip Latina: In July you attended the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival. In an interview, you grappled with the categorization of women’s theatre. Why?
Caridad Svich: I think the freedom to imagine yourself—outside of your skin, gender, ethnicity—that’s what writers do. That’s the transformational process that you go through and hopefully the process that your audience [goes] through. It is about an empathetic sort of journey with what we sometimes think as the other and to recognize that it’s not another—it’s us. The grappling has to do with that.
HL: What trends have you noticed in terms of women theatre artists in comparison to men?
CS: You still have all-male seasons in the theatre with no one batting an eye about it. I think there is this interesting obligation. I think there’s that acknowledgement that women’s lives are important, and not just because you’re a woman, but because we’re half of the population.
HL: How do you try to give back to the theatre community as a playwright?
CS: A lot of times when I write there is a female protagonist. I like creating roles for women so they can play them. We don’t have enough of them still. If I can be that little grain in the sand and have more women have roles to play then that’s what I will do.
HL: How about the Latina community?
CS: When I’ve written Latino beats, those plays outside of Repertorio, have not moved as far. When I get the comments from casting people, they’re like, “Oh, we just don’t have the actors.” I think [with] more body of work as a community, maybe, that response won’t happen.
HL: What intrigued you about Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter?
CS: It’s kind of a veiled story. It’s kind of like you’re never going to get the real story. I love the kind of mischief in that.
HL: What would you say was the theme of the novel?
CS: “How do we perform roles for one another?” The piece for me is about how these people are always performing. They are always playing: “I am playing the role of the 18-year-old writer that is a mask that I am giving myself. And you are the tall divorcée that’s seducing me.” Well, that is a role that I am ascribing to you. Are you really playing it or are you hiding behind it? There is something about the tone of the novel that has that quality.
HL: The novel was written in the 1950s. What hallmarks of that era translate onto the stage?
CS: There is this kind of decorum about what they can or cannot do that is really tantalizing. When he kisses her for the first time, it is like fireworks. They’re waiting for it. This is a love story where these people, yes, have an incredible sexual attraction between them, but, also, they fall in love with their brains—the way they think about the world.
HL: You’re off to your next project: Agua de Luna: Songs from the Revolution. It seems like you have a busy schedule to say the least.
CS: It is a little nuts.
For more on Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, visit the Repertorio Español.