I’m brown, a girl, and rather opinionated. Shakespeare’s words were never meant for me; I recognized that early on. Sure, I’ve acted out a few lines for English at school. I took some reading comprehension tests on why a midsummer’s night wasn’t much to do about nothing, or something like that. But it’s not like I could ever relate to them. If Shakespeare’s narratives don’t reflect me, like stories are meant to, why must I consider them classics? Out of all the real, beautiful stories from around the world, from the Mahabarat to the Genji Monogatari, why must Hamlet be the only one universally recognized as a shining gem?
In Seattle Shakespeare's new podcast house of sueños, playwright Meme García retells Hamlet in their own Salvadorian-American voice, nuanced by intergenerational and personal trauma, to ultimately ground the play in a narrative that, for once, isn’t just for white people. house of sueños is an audio drama about two sisters investigating their father’s mysterious disappearance in the wake of their mother’s wedding. house of dreams in Spanish, the drama explores Latinx identity, colonialism, and trauma.
"I think that one of my things that I'm most excited about house of sueños is that you take this classic—quote unquote ‘classic’ story, right, 'cuz white supremacy's told us this is a classic story. And you're like how—I'm not pulling myself up to that story. Rather, I'm forcibly dragging that play to meet my life. And that I can use these words to kind of talk about things I've had to sit with for most of my life,” García says in a bonus episode, a conversation about their play.
García’s use of language is a central pillar of the play, something the play’s audio format allows it to focus on. The story is spun purely through words and voices. Actors make excellent use of the medium, seeming to have poured their souls into this work. Characters’ personalities are conveyed through tone and speech patterns alone. Emotion is raw in the actors’ voices, which are complemented by an eerie yet beautiful soundtrack composed by Coby Gray. García's poetic writing, heavy with surreal imagery, only serves to enhance the experience of this play. “It is an old place. And it sits like a bug caught in amber. Floating in time.” How beautiful is that?
While the majority of the play is original dialogue, during particularly intense scenes, its Shakespearian roots surface in the form of Hamlet lines retold in a combination of Spanish and English. García reframes these dialogues into contexts completely different from how they were used in Hamlet. Yet, they do it in a way that the weight of the lines still rings clear, if not clearer, because García is allowing these lines to resonate with a wider range of people, specifically Spanish-speaking Latin-Americans.
Hamlet is a play that tackles mental health and suicide, issues that anyone of any background can experience. “The speech, ‘to be or not to be,’ has just kind of haunted me most of my life,” García says in the bonus episode.
In house of sueños, the line “ser o no ser” is uttered by older sister Rina, a seventeen-year-old deadset on finding her papi and rejecting societal norms. Rina’s character brings up colonization and its inflictions on generations of her community. Seen as “rebellious” and “unstable” by her mother, who believes assimilating to the white mindset is what’s best, Rina is rejected by the members of her own family. This line, meaning “to be or not to be” in Spanish, opens an iconic and meaningful line in Hamlet—a line carrying the heaviness of suicide and contemplation—to groups of people with experiences that will cause them to interpret the line in a way vastly different than the white perspective it has always been looked at.
By opening up the narrative of Hamlet, García provides a space for Spanish-speaking BIPOC who have similar experiences to feel a sense of belonging. “Belonging is protection,” therapist Marlene H. Kenny says in the conversation with García. In a world where the white narrative is pervasive, works like house of sueños that turn pieces over-glorified by whiteness into real-life cultural experiences are extremely important.
Shakespeare’s words may not be meant for me, but house of sueños has taught me that I can pull those words down and look them right in the eye by telling a narrative of my own.
house of sueños runs from January 27 to March 17, 2021, and is available on Rough Magic, Seattle Shakespeare Company's podcast. For more information see here.