Party Like it’s 1699: Destiny of Desire is Misogyny Disguised in Glittery Dance Numbers
I think I’m done with OSF.
A lot of things did it. For one, the hypocrisy of condemning a copy of Little Black Sambo being included in a downtown display of banned books, while staging Othello and The Merchant of Venice. As is, because if it’s on stage, then the racism is altered in context?
But it was really Destiny of Desire that put me over the edge. So much so, I didn’t even stick around for the second half.
The play, which opened Feb. 18, and will run through July 12, is “an unapologetic telenovella” (read: Mexican soap opera). The drama revolves around two children born on the same night, at the same hospital; one to the poor Del Rios family (played by Adriana Sevahn Nichols, and Eddie Lopez), and other to a wealthy trophy wife, Fabiola Castillo (played by Vilma Silva). The child of the trophy wife is not expected to survive the night, so she commands the hospital staff to switch her baby with the healthy one so that her husband, a casino magnate, will not shun her.
But both babies survive! What will happen?!
They become friends! And fall for the men that their counterparts have been fixed up with! But of course, those romances could only flourish if the girls were someone else, either unrelated to the men, or from a suitable social class.
Like, OMG Scooby, will it all work out?
Of course it will. The couples that end up together are so clearly telegraphed that they might as well have “Chekov’s gun” tattooed on their foreheads.
And though intended as schmaltzy comedy, the only funny moments were when the action would occasionally pause so an actor could deliver some random statistic about birth rates, or prison populations, that sort of, kind of related to the events happening in that particular scene.
But those felt shoved in, a way of excusing the play as satire, rather than, like the title says, “an unapologetic telenovela,” complete with all the misogyny endemic to the genre.
And watching that much sustained abusive behavior was wearing.
The entire structure of the plot revolves around women being treated like property with their value established by their beauty, and the villainy of the characters perpetuating that system is deeply underplayed by presenting the story as the cornball melodrama, a goofball caper about who ends up with who that has song and dance numbers and a fancy costumes. It might as well be People magazine covering female genital mutilation or 12 Years a Slave reshot by Adam Sandler.
And it isn’t just the men. Fabiola Castillo demands the children are swapped not only because she doesn’t see the poor as human, but because she sees her only value as her beauty and ability to bear the right kind of children. That’s not a character that deserves a plot arc that ends with a tearful reunion and an acknowledgement of an oopsie and a lesson learned; that’s a character that should be put up against the wall when the revolution comes.
The world of Destiny of Desire isn’t as far removed from The Handmaid’s Tale as it thinks it is, and watching its giddy celebration of a callous indifference to human welfare felt gross.
I’d like to say it gets better. Maybe it did.
But the truth is I don’t know. I was so bored and annoyed I left at intermission.
But even if the mistaken identities were cleared up allowing couple A and couple B all end up together as they should, then the thematic frame of a whimsical rom-com endures, rather than turning into the wind and addressing the true horror depicted in the play.
In many ways, Destiny of Desire is the perfect representation of the substantive and complicated hypocrisy of OSF’s attempts to be diversier than thou: a blanket celebration of multiculturalism includes the inclusion and celebration of decidedly illiberal values, which that inclusion and celebration further perpetuates. Like for example, celebrating multiculturalism by staging a telenovella, a genre that has rampant misogyny baked into its form, thereby furthering the idea that women being treated as property is just a story trope, not a serious problem facing half the global population. The genre itself should be condemned for its toxic treatment of women, not put on stage and celebrated as a charming look at how the other half lives. Historical or not, these sorts of stories are terrible. And the sooner we stop celebrating them, and see them for what they really are, then the sooner we can leave that world behind us. Or did OSF somehow try to rebrand itself as champions of social justice and manage to remain entirely ignorant of #MeToo?