The 24th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival is almost here! The featured, Thesis Productions of our Third Year MFA Playwrights debut this weekend in Kantner Hall on the Elizabeth Evans Baker Stage. To celebrate the opening of the featured productions, and leading up to the festival staged readings on the 26th, 27th, and 28th, we will be featuring daily interviews with the current playwrights about their work.
Third Year MFA Cristina Luzárraga (pictured below!) was interviewed by First Year MFA Liv Matthews about her play, La Mujer Barbuda.
Liv Matthews: Your play, La Mujer Barbuda, is inspired by the painting of the same name by Jusepe de Ribera. How did you find this painting? As a playwright, do you often incorporate other forms of art in your work?
Cristina Luzárraga: My grandmother directed me to the painting. She asked me what I was planning to write next, and I told her I was researching St. Wilgefortis, a female medieval saint commonly depicted as crucified and having a beard. My grandmother, who is very cultured and a font of wisdom (and might be reading this because I know she Googles me on occasion—Hi Abuela!) said the image reminded her of a painting she saw in Toldeo, Spain. I looked up La Mujer Barbuda and then couldn’t stop thinking about it. My first year play at OU was also inspired by visual art. The play is about the relationship between an art history PhD student and a security guard at the Guggenheim; the sculpture Daddy, Daddy by Maurizio Cattelan figures prominently.
Liv: For research, you’ve been working with Jacqueline Wolf, a professor at Ohio University who specializes in the history of breastfeeding, among other subjects. How has her expertise influenced your usual research and writing process?
Christina: She filled in some big gaps in my knowledge. For instance, I didn’t know that breast pumping is a relatively new practice and an awkward, less than ideal substitute for breastfeeding that we as a society have settled on in lieu of adequate maternity leave (cue the frustration that drives this play). I didn’t know that milk stasis is a phenomenon. Or just how painful and dangerous mastitis can be. Or that breast milk can treat a variety of maladies, including HIV. Or that with enough persistence on the part of the infant, women can lactate throughout their lives, long after weaning and the onset of menopause. And the list goes on and on. I’m very grateful for her expertise. As someone who’s never given birth, I was flying blind and I’m glad she steered me straight.
Liv: La Mujer Barbuda follows two women from two different time eras and countries, but their stories parallel in many ways. Are there any parallels between you and Maggie and/or Magdalena?
Cristina: My maternal grandfather is from Italy, so we’re all of Italian heritage. (Like the characters of Paco/Fransico/Jusepe, I’m also part Hispanic.) Beyond that, I relate to Maggie’s desire to be a mother and a career woman. I don’t have kids yet, and the prospect of balancing those ambitions makes me very anxious—and fuels my writing.
Liv: Maggie’s career choice as a pilot is, in part, influenced by the film Top Gun. Was there a film from your childhood that influenced your career choice?
Cristina: Well, I’m not a mermaid, so unfortunately my childhood association with Ariel didn’t pan out. (Turns out, mermaid is actually a career option.) I also watched Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet about once a week throughout middle school and high school. And now I’m playwright. So maybe The Bard rubbed off on me (although I was really more interested in Leo DiCaprio than Shakespeare). By the way, I still maintain that’s a great movie, and you can fight me on it.
Liv: Pretend you’re being chased by an angry mob. Why are you being chased and who in your play do you trust to get you out of that situation?
Cristina: Probably Rita, the flight attendant, because she seems like the most competent and levelheaded character. A seasoned flight attendant is a force to be reckoned with. Jusepe de Ribera would be a close second though. Besides his art, that guy was famous for skipping town and evading his creditors, which, as a penniless playwright, I’ve got to respect.
Cristina Luzárraga is a New Jersey native who writes dark comedies about weird things like talking ova and women getting their pinky toes chopped off. Her full-length plays include Due Unto Others, Critical Distance and Millennialville. She graduated from Princeton University and subsequently moved to Chicago where she studied sketch and improv at iO Theater and The Second City Conservatory and performed stand-up comedy at Zanies and around town. Her play “Egg Timer” won audience 1st prize in the 2017 Towne Street Theatre Festival in L.A., and her play “Favor” is published in an anthology by Smith & Kraus. She co-wrote an adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover, which was produced by Ohio University in 2017. She spent this past fall as an intern at New Dramatists in NYC.
La Mujer Barbuda
by Cristina Luzárraga, directed by Jonathan Helter
8:00 pm – April 20th, 25th & 28th, Elizabeth Baker Theater, Kantner Hall
2 women. 4 breasts. 1 beard.
Maggie is an American airline pilot and new mother. When she tries to pump breast milk in the cockpit, she almost perishes in a plane crash––and that’s not even the worst of it.
Magdalena is a 17th century Italian weaver and new mother. When she suddenly grows a beard and nurses a baby at age fifty-two, she sets off a domestic and civil crisis––and that, too, is not even the worst of it.
La Mujer Barbuda explores the intersecting lives of two women, separated by time and space and united in the struggle to thrive as a mother in a man’s world.
Tickets for the Featured Productions are $5 general admission or FREE for OU Students (with valid student ID) through Arts for Ohio; available at the Templeton–Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium box office.