Stage

An English-Language Premiere of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter at Main Street Theater

(L-R) Amanda Martinez as Julia, Ricardo Hernandez-Morgan as Mario and Armando Gonzalez as Pedro in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.
(L-R) Amanda Martinez as Julia, Ricardo Hernandez-Morgan as Mario and Armando Gonzalez as Pedro in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Photo by Ricornel Productions

Mario is a young man looking to establish himself as a writer when he encounters a woman ten years his senior and recently divorced — which in 1950s Peru is still somewhat scandalous. In typical rom-com fashion they don't like each other at first, but with time, an attraction grows.

What makes this story special is that it's a somewhat fictionalized version of the early adult life of famed writer and Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas-Llosa who wrote about it in his book Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Caridad Svich adapted the book for a play in both Spanish and English versions and the English-language version is making its premiere at Main Street Theater.

Svich, has been commissioned to adapt a number of books as plays for the New York City-based Repertorio Español, among them Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits: A Novel and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, says they are wonderful novels, but mostly dark and sad. As it turns out, both she and the theater company decided it was about time for a comedy and the result was a play adapting Aunt Julia. The Spanish-language version play premiered in 2015.

In the play, Mario is visiting with family and Julia comes to stay with them. "She’s just had a divorce there’s a bit of a scandal. She's a divorcee and she’s retreating and they do not get along. It’s a kind of a meet cute," Svich says.

"He is attracted to her but he understands there is an age gap and she is recently divorced. He doesn't have a significant other in his life. There's a bit of tenuousness around this relationship. Then it evolves into a friendship where they talk about life and art and her life. Partly for him, he's a writer so partly for him as writers tend to do: 'Oh, this is a great story.' They actually do fall in love and it’s very moving," Svich says.

"I think my attraction to the material besides it being delightful and fun is that it's a bit of a roman à clef," Svich says. "It's inspired by his real life and his first marriage to Julia Urquidi and also about his early days training for radio drama. So it's a coming of age novel. It's a coming of age as an artist novel. Also there's this potentially transgressive love story at its center and it's treated with great tenderness but also honoring its complexities.

"And also there's this wonderful character called Pedro Camacho who is the mentor to the Mario character who is a writer of radio serials. And he's an incredibly exciting character, He's eccentric, driven, he's a bit of a mad genius, very funny but also very sad person.  I love this kind of tension in the book among a character who is coming of age who has basically who has two mentors in their life. One of them is a romantic mentor and somebody who is their artistic mentor, And through that, this young man finding his voice as an artist."

The 1950s was a time of tremendous change for Peru, Svich says. "Lima is growing as a city and there is a lot of international investment in the city especially in media and communications. It's a city that's growing as a metropolis. It mirrors a little bit Mario's growth. The city is also blossoming around him."

In terms of costuming, all of the characters are middle class wearing typical 1950s attire of that time, Svich says. "Some of it is a big costume show in the sense that Julia likes to dress well and spends money on outfits. She’s coming back into society after the divorce."

"There's something compelling about characters revealing themselves through what they wear."

Asked to whom this play would appeal, Svich says: "it’s a love story and a comedy. I think it transcends particulars. We’ve all I hope had an experience with love. And this notion of coming of age is universal. For people that are artists, the idea of being mentored by someone and finding your own voice and finding your own craft,  I think that resonates."

Performances are scheduled for May 14 through June 5 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Time Boulevard. Proof of a negative COVI test within 48 hours or a vaccination card are required. Masks are recommended but not required. For more information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $36-$55.
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