A moonlit night in Barstow, California, is the backdrop for a surrealist fantasy steeped in magical realism, hard truths about life and society, and a director’s vision to call out toxic masculinity.
Stage play “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” opens at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, at the Cal Poly Pomona Studio Theatre. It continues its run at 8 p.m. on April 26, 27, May 2, 3, 4 and at 2 p.m. on May 5.
In this production of “References,” Gabriela awaits the return of her wife Benita from the Gulf War. The Moon comes down from the sky to seduce her with references to famous artwork and Shakespeare; an onlooking neighborhood boy is jealous of the Moon. Gabriela’s Cat banters with a Coyote as the two compare their respectively domestic and feral lives, but it’s unclear to the Cat if the Coyote’s desire is out of hunger or a more carnal nature.
Mark Valdez, director of the show, says his vision and hope for audience members’ takeaway is to focus on toxic masculinity’s infection of society at all levels and the harm it causes. By casting a woman as Gabriela’s wife – the only departure from the original script, which describes a heterosexual marriage – Valdez says he hopes to lift the burden of perpetuating toxic masculinity, at least in part, from the individual by examining how it operates on an institutional level.
“It’s not a small change and is rather significant,” Valdez says of the gender swap. “In this version where we have two women, it underscores how different parts of our culture, such as the military, can reinforce [toxic masculinity] without making it obvious or even recognizing it.”
Of course, changing Rivera’s original character “Benito” to Valdez’s “Benita” does not inherently undo the hard-charging, army-loving machismo of the original character with whom Gabriela struggles to decipher their connection. Instead, he says, it calls to attention the egalitarian impact that toxic masculinity can have upon anyone steeped in a culture where it thrives.
Ultimately, however, Benita wants Gabriela to understand that her only loves are Gabriela and the army; but it’s the theology and art-loving Gabriela who feels she is not understood by Benita.
“People can end up talking past together as a result of gendered behavior, no matter their gender, and my hope is that we’ll look deeper at how the concept of toxic masculinity infiltrates our society and the impact it has on people and their relationships,” Valdez says.
The magical realism of celestial objects reciting Shakespeare to woo a woman – whose cat has a relationship with a coyote that possibly parallels her marriage – promises to make the meat and potatoes of the play easier to digest without pulling any emotional punches.
“It’s not often that you get to see such a surreal style on stage,” Valdez says. “But all of it – the surrealism and magical realism – makes it easier to look at hard truths about society, its impact on personal relationships and how those relationships are affected as a result.”
See “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” play out at 8 p.m. April 25, 26, 27, May 2, 3, 4 and at 2 p.m. on May 5 at Cal Poly Pomona’s Studio Theatre. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for alumni and $10 for Cal Poly Pomona students, staff, faculty as well as senior citizens.
For more information or ticket purchases, visit www.bit.ly/cpptndtix.