In September, Stonecoast Alumna Cindy Williams Gutiérrez’s play A Dialogue of Flower & Song, was featured as part of the 2012 Group of Spanish and Latin American Women’s Studies Conference co-sponsored by the University of Portland and Portland State University. The play also served as the opening event of the 2012 La Luna Nueva festival celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at the Miracle/Milagro Theater in Portland, Oregon and was performed to a sold-out crowd.
Set mostly in fifteenth-century Mexico, the play re-imagines a historic Mesoamerican literary event that took place around 1490. Boundaries of time, space, and gender are crossed as three women debate the purpose of poetry and wrestle with what it means to "be impeccable." The “winner” of the debate may be able to alter the course of history. Protagonist Diana, an anti-war war correspondent, would like nothing more than to redo a secret from her past.
The human drama of Diana’s struggle to speak her truth and take a stand for her convictions is set against a backdrop of the political drama of war—both in Mexico’s history and in modern-day Iraq. The essence of the play involves the interaction among the three women from pivotal points in Mexico’s history. Each is strong and intelligent in her own way, and each finds a way to leave her mark in a male-dominated world. Even though the three female characters ostensibly debate the purpose of poetry, they are essentially debating their respective worldviews. In addition to Diana’s human struggle, what is juxtaposed in this drama is the political struggle of 15th-century Tenochtitlan (as Macuilxochitzin) versus 17th-century Nueva España (as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz) versus the contemporary Mexican Diaspora (as Diana).
Gutiérrez says that Stonecoast played an enormous role in the writing of this play. “I was fortunate to have Charles Martin as my first mentor who was familiar with both the Nahuas and Sor Juana. He suggested I begin writing in the voices of Mesoamerican poet-princes. These Aztec-inspired poems gave rise to two of the play’s characters, the female poet-warrior and Tecayehehuatzin, the original host of the dialogue of flower and song. Then I worked with Annie on formal poetry and I began to write sonnets and décimas in the voice of Sor Juana. These poems gave rise to the third historical character in the play, the poet-nun. Annie also encouraged me to find a musician knowledgeable in pre-Hispanic music since Nahua poetry was always chanted accompanied by music and dance. I met Gerardo Calderón (here in Portland, Oregon) in January of 2007 and we’ve been collaborating on poetry and plays accompanied by pre-Hispanic music ever since.”
Since Gutiérrez graduated, there have been four readings of the play, one at Stonecoast which was made available via podcast by Maine Humanities, two at the Miracle Theatre in Portland, and one at the Brownsville Heritage Museum in Brownsville, Texas, Gutiérrez’s hometown. Gutiérrez says at each reading there was a post-play discussion, which provided fodder for revision.
“In late 2009, I decided to work with an actor to help me bring the protagonist and her story alive. That was the turning point: I made the protagonist a photojournalist and added photography to the play and I added the fifth character, a 7-year-old Iraqi boy, who haunts the protagonist. He has no lines, but he keeps appearing until she finally reveals her secret of why she ran away from the Iraq War.”
Photos courtesy of Russell J. Young Photography