Play Reading: References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot

"Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love" by Salvador Dali (One of the paintings mentioned in the play)

East LA Rep’s play reading group took on References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot by Jose Rivera yesterday. The play is about a husband and wife who have grown apart due to the husband’s involvement in the army. The script has a surreal and dream-like quality to it. The poetic language in the play is beautiful though at times confusing. One of our group members mentioned that it was like reading Shakespeare. One has to analyze each word to understand each line’s meaning and rhythm.

In Rivera’s play, a full moon cynically watches the happenings in the Mojave Desert below, like a peeping tom. Gabriela (the wife) lives in Barstow, California and in her husband’s absence grows increasingly lonely, socially isolated and is subject to strange dreams. She awaits his return from a mission with emotional needs not sexual desire.

A randy coyote and pampered house cat parallels the couple’s behavior. The coyote wants to make the cat moan, “so loud, your ancestors will hear”. But the cat coyly deflects his advances, wanting no part in fulfilling the coyote’s desires but basking in the attention.

Benito (the husband) finally arrives from the Persian Gulf and all he wants is sex. She, on the other hand, wants to talk. She wants confirmation that he is the same man she married years ago before he went to war. She wants passion and romance. He wants to work his way to retirement at thirty-eight and be set for life with an army pension. He wants to forget the nightmares of war. She’s taking classes at school and studying the Koran. He wants to forget about the “ragheads”. She’s all Venus, he’s all Mars.

Most of the group agreed that the play sheds light on the difficulty that men and women have in understanding each other. After being away at war, all Benito wants to do is come home and be with his woman. But Gabriela does not give him a moment’s peace from the minute he walks in through the door. She wants acknowledgement at an inopportune time and if the answer she gets is not the one she is looking for, she may very well walk out of the marriage.

One of our group members is a Vietnam War vet. He read the part of Benito and during the break mentioned how realistic the script was to what he had experienced when returning home from the war. “You are different,” he said, “but everyone else is the same.” He explained how difficult it is to explain to your loved ones how the things you have seen have changed who you are without going into details. And that fear is in the details and avoided at all costs.

Sometimes the play’s poetry seems excessive, Gabriela and Benito’s fights go a bit long but the language Rivera used is necessary for the story. It creates images that reference Salvador Dali’s paintings. Many of which depict isolation, strange dreams and sexual desire.

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