“Encanta”: Choosing Life When Surrounded By Death
Earlier in the year, I wrote about my play Encanta being a celebration of those parts of my identity that used to be a source of shame and tragedy.
Now that its run is wrapping up at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, I’ve been thinking about why people responded so well to it, even though it’s a simple story about people falling in love.
When I pick up a paper, go on the internet or watch the news, there are a lot of dead bodies. So far this year, 17 trans women of color have been murdered. Twenty-four Black men have been killed by police this year (one every 9 days), and that’s not including cases when Black women are found dead in jail cells by apparent suicide. There are lots of dead people of color and dead LGBT people — especially if the deceased is both — in mainstream media.
It can give the impression that America is obsessed with our dead bodies. It can seem that our lives aren’t important until they are cut short. Even then, what we lived for often seems to matter less than how we died.
Yet, with all this that is going on that needs to be addressed, we have Encanta, this fantasy romance about a pirate and a sorceress falling in love. A feel-good, magical romance that where everyone is laughing, loving and — most importantly — alive.
When I first wrote Encanta, I was worried, then nonchalant, then worried again. Though all the characters are LGBT and of Latin descent, it wasn’t doing anything substantial for LGBT people of color starving for representations of themselves. I don’t set out to solve racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia with this play. As a matter of fact, I deliberately wrote it in such a way as to get away from most of that (as there is something to be said about the rare bit of misogyny expressed by one of the characters). It’s pure escapist fantasy that isn’t trying to send a message or make a statement about life, humanity and everything else.
I could imagine what the naysayers would say about Encanta:
“Why make everyone of Latin descent if the play is not about Latin issues?” I hear them ask inside my head. As if falling in love is not something people of Latin descent did.
“Why make everyone LGBT if it’s not about homophobia?” they nag. As if being LGBT means we can’t also be heroes, romantic leads and powerful magicians popular for straight and cis people in all forms of media.
“How dare you put this frothy nonsense into the world when we have Important Issues that need addressing?”
But when I got reactions from people who saw the play and talked with a few of my friends who’d seen it, they found this element of the play delightful. Now, reflecting on it, it hits me: the lives of people of color and LGBT people are rarely seen as interesting and meaningful in and of themselves.
It’s interesting to note, belatedly, that Encanta takes place in a small but busy town on a tropical island with an active volcano and teeming with all kinds of life. I originally made this choice as a way to do something other than the bland northern European knockoff settings so prevalent in fantasy novels and films, but now that I think about it, the aliveness of the play matters. Encanta‘s characters are not merely symbols of an unjust system. They are living people whose lives and loves are the heart of the show. Everything about them is vivid, colorful and dynamic.
Seeing ourselves as living beings presented live on the stage — not just our deaths and tragedies — is a vital act of resistance against narratives that say that our lives only matter when the letters “RIP” are attached to us. Encanta tells a different story from the one we hear about ourselves everyday. It tells us that our lives matter now, and they mean something simply because we’re alive.