When Marisela Barrera was reading Sandra Cisneros' 1991 book Women Hollering Creek, she recognized herself on the pages.
"I had to stay up to read it," she says. "I immediately connected with it."
So much so that Barrera adapted it into the play, Milagritos / little miracles, which Cara Mía Theatre Co. stages Dec. 1-15 at the Latino Cultural Center. Cisneros, one of the first prominent Latina writers in the nation and the author of The House on Mango Street and Carmelo, will attend the opening night performance Dec. 1 and sign books in a reception beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Cara Mía is presenting the play, which director David Lozano bills it as a "holiday classic," for the second time. The title comes from the short story, "Little Miracles, Kept Promises," in which pilgrims come to a shrine to give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe—an iconic Mexican symbol who appeared before peasant Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531. The theater will celebrate the day with a party before its Dec. 12 production.
"The characters' range [of prayers] reflects the diversity of life's experiences, from problems with pimples to more serious health issues, to lost love and loves that need to get lost," Barrera says.
Barrera was especially drawn to the lead character, Chayo.
"I found not only myself in her but the Chicanos I was running into," Barrera says, adding that Cisneros based the characters on folks she knew. "That's why her works are so relevant. We read them and it's like, 'Yes, I know this story, I know this woman.' "
"Everyone knows these characters from our community," Lozano says. "I think that's what grabs people. The more you read it, the more you start peeling away some transformational pieces that become pure poetry."
The story illuminates the people beyond the Latino neighborhood and into the Catholic community, he says.
"You talk to Catholic people and they have their miracle story," he says. "Their prayers are heard."
Eliberto Gonzalez, the president and co-founder of Cara Mía, knew Cisneros and got permission for Cara Mía to present the play when it first ran in 1998. Adapting the book is always full of surprises.
"Cisneros' works aren't dramatic narratives, and are more sophisticated than readers realize," Lozano says. "Most folks will get more of the sense of the everyday quality of these characters and what they live through, while astute readers will recognize the symbolism and poetic quality."
"Her writing is very complex at times and so when you start really repeating and working through these lyrical imagery, the symbolism of such profound events, you begin [to see] a larger universe that is very real to us," he says.
Barrera and Lozano found inspiration in other sources. When Barrera visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, near the place where Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary, she was inspired by the sounds of the pilgrims and wrote three chants into the play.
Lozano, who has directed plays with Cara Mía off and on for seven years, wasn't sure what to do with those chants. Then, when he developed a summer camp program for youth in which Cara Mía's music teacher and Artist-in-Residence S-Ankh Rasa conducted a street parade orchestra for middle schoolers, they used trash cans and buckets.
"Why don't we do that with the actors?" he thought.
Barrera, a Southern Methodist University graduate and a San Antonio-based playwright, director, actress, artist and community arts educator, says Cisneros has seen the play before, and she was supportive.
"I think she really felt the stories and listening to them in that way," Barrera says. "[She enjoyed] her own work in a way she hadn't before."
♦ Jessica DeLeon runs The Hispanic Reader blog, devoted to Latino voices in literature.