Friday, October 11, 2013

Sexual Healing in the Octavio Solis Play, "Lydia"

A couple of weeks ago today in the L. Howard Fox Studio Theater at MSU I saw a play reading of Octavio Solis's Lydia performed by MSU's Acting majors for the New Play Festival. It is about a brain damaged teenage girl named Ceci Flores. The play explains how this happened to her while also showing how it has affected her bilingual Mexican immigrant family living in El Paso, Texas. She wasn't born this way, but I'm not going to spoil you by telling you why and how it happened. The audience hears her inner thoughts, but outwardly to the rest of the characters she is in a semi-vegetative state and doesn't speak. Ceci's mother, Rosa, hires a non-American maid from Mexico, Lydia, to help take care of her daughter when she is out to work.

I actually read Lydia for my first theater class in my first semester at MSU and the play reading was directed by the professor of that class.

When I first read the play a few questions rose for me and the live play reading rose the same questions and even more.


For instance,

The maid sleeps with Claudio, apparently a few times. Why?

This part came out of nowhere to me when I first read it. Claudio, Ceci's father, is mainly an angry guy and is pretty much abusive to everybody but Ceci, so Lydia tells him off for both accounts. Then she straddles him on his chair IN FRONT OF CECI.

It seems to add nothing to the plot or have anything to do with Ceci's story, so why is it there?

After seeing it performed, it made more sense to me and I realized that it was included in the play for not just one reason, but three:

1) Claudio misses Mexico - This idea came to me at the end of the reading through one of Rosa's lines when Claudio asks where Lydia is and she confronts him about his infidelity indirectly. She says something like, "You miss Mexico that much?" as if to mean, "Then go back." Claudio doesn't sleep with Lydia because he has an unsatisfying sex life with Rosa. We don't see them ever interact romantically, but if this were the issue she would've probably included this in her confrontation, unless she was too scared to. The real reason he cheats is that he misses the homeland he abandoned, appears clearly miserable in America, and Lydia, being the only character not an American citizen but a Mexican one, gives him the little connection he has to his home. A good majority of Claudio's lines are in Spanish, which makes this argument more evident.

Ceci states in her opening monologue that Rosa pretty much dragged Claudio to America with her. Rosa is "clerk for the County" and Claudio a short order cook. Claudio could have animosity towards his wife for these reasons, so perhaps romance with her isn't that satisfying after all.

2) Lydia's sexual conquests mirror Ceci's sexual desires - Ceci makes it no secret that she desires sexual contact. When I read the play I thought that the Claudio and Lydia sex was real, but the play reading made me question it. Ceci recites one of her inner monologues during this point and starts off by saying "I dream..." making me think that Ceci imagines this instead of it actual happening. During the play Ceci looks up to Lydia as her caretaker, so it would make sense to have Lydia perform the sexual acts that Ceci is imagining, as if she is experiencing sex through her. It would also explain why it happens right in the room with her.

But then future lines and scenes prove that this actually did occur, more than once, so this theory isn't very plausible but more disturbing considering that it is done in the same room as Ceci in reality.

Even so, why would Ceci imagine Lydia having sex with her FATHER though? Is it because her sexual life is that warped?

This kind of suggests that she is sexually attracted to her father, though this idea is never really explored much nor does it seem important to the plot. I didn't really want to go here because not only is it disturbing, I thought this was the only clue. However, while rereading part of the play, I came across an earlier scene when Ceci has a flashback (or it could be happening in real time) of her father singing to her and giving her a pair of pearl earrings as she "sleeps." Thereafter she asks "Oh what is this yearning inside? What does it mean?" It turns out that later on she discovers she just wants sex. Perhaps this is some kind of Electra Complex (female version of the Oedipus Complex).

3) It gives Rosa motivation to get rid of her - Ceci's love interest and cousin Alvaro patrols the border so he comes to take Lydia away. For the entire play Rosa and Lydia are friends and Rosa even offers to help Lydia get American citizenship. However, once Rosa finds out that Lydia has been sleeping with her husband, all of this goes out the window and she doesn't hesitate in letting him take her away. Chances are if the sex didn't happen or was revealed, Lydia would still be there with them.

Let's talk briefly about how Ceci is in love with her cousin.

Okay so Ceci is in love with her cousin Alvaro, which is actually a catalyst for plenty of the action in the play. Perhaps nowadays this wouldn't make sense or not be widely accepted, but the play takes place in the seventies. Back in older days it was more acceptable to marry your cousin, so this point isn't as far-fetched.

But basically the entire story surrounds the fact that Ceci just wants to have an orgasm.

Sure she is in "love" with Alvaro, but even Ceci herself towards the beginning proclaims the real truth: "I'm just horny!" Even though she is brain damaged, she still has the human sexual desire. As she dances with her cousin in one of the scenes, she apparently urinates. However, this is not how I see it. What she releases to me is the moisture of her sexual excitement, perhaps mixed with urination.

She finally does climax (or rather I think she does) in the final scene...


... and then she dies, which tells me that this was her goal the entire time. Right after it finally happens for the only time in her life, she is okay with giving up her spirit. Think about it. She dies through sexual pleasure and puts herself out of her misery with sexual healing. Maybe that was her plan all along! Maybe she actually wanted to die after climaxing!

In the final scene of the play Ceci puts her brother Miguel's (referred to as "Misha" by the rest of the characters) hand down her pants and he...masturbates her.

Let's recap this. First she's connecting sex to her father, then she connects sex to her cousin, now she connects sex to her brother. There's a pattern here.

During these few moments Ceci puts a pull tab in her mouth and swallows it.

But here's the thing...

Did Ceci commit suicide intentionally or was it an accident?

When I read the play I thought it was intentional to put herself out of her misery, and I actually thought that Misha did the same thing with her, but the way it was performed in the play reading made me think otherwise.

What takes place in the earlier scenes of the play is the "Chekhov's Gun" principle. This is based on a playwriting device utilized by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. What it means is that if you see a gun in the first act, chances are it will be used by the third or fourth act. It's basically a foreshadowing technique.

The same rule is somewhat incorporated in Lydia. We see pull tabs plenty of times throughout the play as the family often drinks canned soda, beer, and place them in plain view. Claudio even throws one out of frustration. I remember them constantly mentioned in the script when I read it too. If you are familiar with Chekhov's rule, or the play itself, you know something is going to eventually happen with these pull tabs considering you keep seeing them. Other foreshadowing is that Misha looks inside of Ceci's mouth in the first scene of the play for no reason and Ceci puts other characters' hands down her pants in other early scenes. There is even a time in an early scene when Rosa shows concern that Ceci would cut herself with the pull tab Claudio drops on the floor, so she enlists Misha to pick it up.

So she puts a pull tab in her mouth as her brother masturbates her so it could be assumed that she did it on purpose. However, we must remember than she is a brain damaged girl that sometimes lives in a different realm than the rest do. Also, when a person is in a sexual ecstatic state, he or she may not think clearly then either. So technically Ceci is not in her right frame of mind for not one reason but two. She could've very well put her the pull tab in her mouth and swallowed out of sexual excitement and not thinking about what she is doing. Or maybe she is just so turned on in this scene that she put the pull tab in her mouth on purpose just for the dangerous sexual excitement it can produce.

On a side note, think about this too. This must've really messed up Misha pretty badly. This is how the play ends so we don't know how he reacts to this. Not only was he performing sexual acts on his SISTER, but she also dies afterward. How is he supposed to explain this to his family? Claudio beats him up earlier in the play for claiming to put a certain plot important dress on Ceci, so what's to stop him from doing it again? How is Misha supposed to live with himself after this?

So why is the play named after Lydia anyway?

Ceci is clearly the main character of the play. Everything circles around her. She obviously is the one that should have the title's namesake.

I questioned this when I first read the play and it still remains a mystery to me now. But let me take a crack at this. Maybe it's because Lydia is a catalyst for some action in the play, she helps unravel some family secrets, she brings change to the characters, she's a connection to Mexico, ...?

Here's something I don't understand about Lydia at all. Every time Ceci mumbles or shrieks something, Lydia is able to translate it into English for the rest of the characters with no problem. Nobody else understands how she has this ability, and frankly neither do I. She claims that she has something in common with Ceci, that the two of them share something, which kind of suggests to me that maybe Lydia's brain experienced some kind of trauma itself in the past. Whatever the reason, it is never really explained.

However, after analyzing while writing this piece, I think I got it.

Lydia represents Ceci's sexual self in the flesh simply because Ceci's sexual self is now only in her mind. From what I can tell, Ceci's only exposure to men in her life have been her father, her cousin, and her two brothers. The seemingly incest feelings she seems to have for these men isn't necessarily as disturbing when explained. It's just all Ceci knows. Since they are they only men she knows and quite possibly has seen in her life, this explains why they are the only men that are featured in her sexual feelings, fantasies, and activities.

It just so happens that these are the men who connect to Lydia sexually. Ceci's brother Rene has a sexual background that influences Ceci's life as well, but I'm not talking about him because his sexual self is a pivotal part of the conflict and twist. Rene lusts after Lydia, Misha falls in love with her, and Claudio has sex with her. Ceci observes all of this while her heart still yearns for Alvaro. Lydia experiences the sexual events that Ceci herself wants to experience, so that's why the two have such a connection.

You know, I didn't really want to do this since I feel like I always look at things through this criticism, but I have to say it again: Lydia is a feminist play. And it is one simply because Ceci, for a brain damaged young woman, is able to tap into her sexual feelings and take at least some control (depending on how you look at it) of both her sexuality and death by combining the two. After being dependent on everyone, especially Lydia, throughout the play, she finally takes matters into her own hands...and Misha's.