Premiere issue Autumn 2002

Rivera now ready to tackle politics

See review of "Adoration of the Old Woman."

Puerto Rican independence is an issue Jose Rivera has wanted to tackle for some years, but the successful playwright said it is only recently that he's felt ready to address his native island's political future. But address it he does in the world premiere of "Adoration of the Old Woman," which opens Sunday at the La Jolla Playhouse.

"It's actually something I'd wanted to do for a long, long time, abut sometimes as a writer you don't feel ready in your life to deal with certain subjects," Rivera said. "I hadn't felt ready in terms of maturity to tackle this.

"The question becomes how do you do this subject, and that wasn't apparent to me for a long, long time — what kind of story you would create in order to be plausible."

Rivera, who is best known for "Cloud Tectonics" and "Marisol," acknowledged that the play's message may not resonate as much in Southern California, which has a relatively small Puerto Rican population, as it would in New York — but said the play is universal enough to appeal to everyone.

"I think in the East there would probably be a deeper emotional reaction to the play. But here, the experience between Mexico and the U.S. has been no less traumatic. Probably more so because there was war and land that was lost and those kinds of things.

"Also, the play deals with identity, which is a very powerful theme in the English-speaking world."

Rivera also admitted there is some irony in writing a play about Puerto Rico in English. While he was born in Puerto Rico, he moved to the United States when he was 4, and said his own command of Spanish isn't that strong — "I couldn't do this interview in Spanish."

But he hopes to produce the play in Puerto Rico eventually, and if he does so, will translate it into Spanish.

He also said that even though he's now written the play he'd wanted to write, the process of finishing it isn't over until the work is on stage in front of an audience. He described giving the work he'd written to others — director, actors, set designers — to bring to life as "the hardest part of it."

"Legal ownership belongs to the writer, but the process of a play involves giving up artistic control to other people."

Rivera said that in some ways, he prefers a play's premiere because as the author he plays a more important role in this first production.

"When you begin the process, nobody knows the play as well as the writer does. So the writer becomes the source of all information in terms of the meaning of the play, sources of imagery and things like that. You are a very important resource, especially in a world premiere when there's no precedent for that play."

Rivera then laughed, and said that there is a certain nervousness when he is invited to see subsequent productions of his earlier works.

"It's a little frightening only because, especially in the case of a university production, they've taken the trouble to fly you out, put you up in a hotel, treated you like a celebrity, and then you get in the audience and you think "This could be terrible."

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