Dear Artistic Director
I am pleased to submit my play The Blade of Jealousy, for your production consideration.
The play was originally commissioned for Golden Tongues, a Playwrights’ Arena/UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library project, whose aim is to introduce modern audiences to contemporary English adaptations of Spanish Renaissance plays from the 17th century (1590-1681, considered Spain’s “Golden Age”). My adaptation is inspired by Jealous of Herself, written by Tirso de Molina, one of the most prolific dramatists of that era, translated by Harley Erdman.
The Blade of Jealousy was recently produced as a staged reading at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles on August 29. The event generated quite a bit of media attention as well as a huge buzz on social media; ultimately it sold-out. Audience reaction, across the board, was unequivocally enthusiastic.
The event’s highlights are reflected in the above five-minute video.
I hope you will consider it worthy of a production in your theater. I look forward to hearing from you.
As I pondered over which play to select, I was struck by the sheer volume and variety of Spanish Renaissance plays that had been written and produced during the Golden Age. Who knew! The number surpassed even those written during the English Renaissance (according to Wikipedia by a factor of four!). About ten thousand plays are estimated to have been written; the number of surviving plays is in the hundreds, a majority of which remain virtually untouched in terms of both production and scholarly analysis. Golden Tongues and UCLA’s “Diversifying the Classics” initiative are an attempt to promote the plays among English-language audiences. The website is http://diversifyingtheclassics.humanities.ucla.edu/
After poring through dozens of synopses, I stumbled across Tirso de Molina’s La celosa de sí misma (Jealous of Herself), translated by Harley Erdman. Its lively plot, fascinating characters and relentless wit immediately captured my imagination. Melchor falls in love with a mysterious veiled lady (Magdalena) in a cathedral simply from a glimpse of her hand. This places undue pressure on the lady in question who—when pursued by Melchor in a different setting—must live up to the idealized woman that he has conjured in his imagination. Melchor, of course, does not realize that Magdalena and the veiled lady are one and the same person; as a result, Magdalena becomes jealous of herself! What a delicious setup!
And how utterly relevant today is the issue of self-image and identity! Can we ever live up to the idea of perfection foisted on us through the media? When we are bombarded by society’s notions of the standards of beauty, is it any wonder that we are continually dissatisfied with what nature has given us? Why do we continue to crave and seek to attain idealized versions of our physical selves?
Finally, a word about the playwright, Tirso de Molina (1579-1648). He was a Baroque dramatist, poet and Catholic monk who wrote four hundred plays, of which only eighty still exist today. Perhaps his most famous play is El burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville), which is considered the original Don Juan play.
I hope this adaptation will whet your appetite to investigate the rich heritage of the Spanish Golden Age plays. Jon Lawrence Rivera, UCLA Professor Barbara Fuchs and I would be immensely pleased. Please enjoy this madcap comedy, the core of which reiterates the universal truth that beauty is but skin-deep.
His first play Madame Mao’s Memories, a one-person play based on the life of the infamous Jiang Qing, widow of Chairman Mao, debuted at Theatre/Theater in 1989. It received instant critical acclaim and went on to be produced in several U.S. cities, including San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre, and internationally at the Latchmere Theatre in London, the Edinburgh Arts Festival in Scotland, TheatreWorks in Singapore, and, most recently, at the University of Regina, Canada.
Sweet Karma, about an immigrant Cambodian doctor who was plucked out of obscurity to star in a movie that won him the coveted Academy Award, was produced by Grove Theater Center in 2014r. Fabric, based on the Thai garment workers slavery case, was staged at Singapore Repertory Theatre, in 2000; Nomad Theatre in Surrey, England, 2001; and Company of Angeles in 2010. It was reprised in 2015 at Pasadena Playhouse for the 20th anniversary celebration of the landmark Thai garment workers slavery case People Like Me, produced by Playwrights’ Arena in 1997, garnered Ong a Drama-Logue award for writing, and is published by Norman Maine Publishing.
Other productions/writing credits include: Rachel Ray; Nina Balatka; Ascent; The Masseur; The Old Lady Who Popped Out of the Sidewalk and Became a Christmas Tree, The Legend of the White Snake.
Ong is a 16-time recipient of Artist-in-Residence grants from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Department. He has conducted oral history workshops in many underserved communities that culminated in public presentations. These include: Middle-eastern Stories, Sikh American Stories, Thai American Stories, Korean American Stories, Chinese American Stories, Pinoy Stories, Stories of the Blind, and Stories of Torture Victims.
Ong has collaborated with Marlton School, Los Angeles’ only day school for the deaf, on a series of Asian folktales, including The Wedding of Bolak Sonday (Filipino), Lady White Snake (Chinese), The Fire Boy (Japanese) and Golden Flower Princess (Thai). Produced short plays include: Winter (Playwrights Arena Flash Theater LA, 2012); Valley of the Bones (Chalk Repertory); Four Walls, Who’s F***ing The Horse?, Seppuku! and Legit (Company of Angels); and Dim Sum and then Some (Asian American Theatre, San Francisco).
A community activist, Ong founded the non-profit organization, Artists Against Oppression (AAO). The organization, committed to community involvement through artistic expression, has raised monies for several charitable organizations, including the LA Mission and Project Angel Food.
Ong is an active member of the Dramatist Guild. His website is www.henryong.org