Arizona Latino Playwright Tackles Life of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor | Phoenix New Times

Arizona Playwright Tackles Life of Supreme Court's Sonia Sotomayor

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Scene from James Garcia's My Beloved World.
Scene from James Garcia's My Beloved World. Phil Soto
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Playwright James Garcia still recalls the day Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, nine years later, he’s premiered a play inspired by her life.

It’s based on My Beloved World, Sotomayor’s memoir published in 2013, and shares the same title. Like, the book, Garcia’s play traces her life from childhood through appointment to the federal court.

The one-act play, which runs just 52 minutes, is part of the Lunch Time Theater Series on the Herberger Theater Center’s Kax Stage. It opened on Monday, August 6, and runs through Thursday, August 16.

“I’d been thinking about writing the play since I watched her get sworn in by Barack Obama,” Garcia says. Like millions of Americans, he watched live coverage of the event on August 8, 2009.

“It was so moving, it brought a tear to my eye.”

Garcia read Sotomayor’s memoir two years ago, which addresses several of the challenges she faced as a child, including juvenile diabetes, plus her father’s alcoholism and death.

She was born in the Bronx in 1954, to parents who hailed from Puerto Rico.

“There’s a scene early in the play where her parents get into an argument because her mother has to leave for work, so her father will have to be responsible for her,” Garcia says.

The young Sotomayor, who has diabetes, needs her insulin injections, but because of his shaky hands, her father can't give her the medicine. So she learns to give herself the shots.

“I was struck by how disciplined and determined she was from a young age, and how that carries through her whole life,” Garcia says. “She’s always had the ability to say she was going to do something, then get it done.”

click to enlarge
Scene from James Garcia's My Beloved World.
Phil Soto
Garcia was also struck by the power of Sotomayor’s writing.

“The book is so beautifully written, it made my job easier,” Garcia says. “The hardest part was deciding what to leave out.”

Eventually, he’d like to create a full-length version of the play, which would run about 80 or 90 minutes. First, he plans to contact Sotomayor, to share his plans and seek her blessing.

Garcia hopes to premiere the full-length play in New York City, with his New Carpa Theater company. But first, he’ll need to write the longer version and finesse it through workshops with actors.

“The soonest all those pieces could come together would probably be spring in 2020,” he says.

For now, he’s focused on directing the short play, and seeing how it unfolds on the local stage. “The test is always the audience, and I’ve been pleased with their response to the dramatic sections, and the comedy here and there.”

click to enlarge
Scene from James Garcia's My Beloved World.
Phil Soto
My Beloved World is just the latest in a long line of Garcia plays with political themes. In 2006, he premiered The Crossing, which imagines an encounter between an undocumented immigrant and a border agent who crossed the border as a child. His 2008, he explored the obstacles faced by immigrant children seeking citizenship in a play called Dream Act.

Garcia's tackled immigrant children fending for themselves after their father's deportation in a 2009 play called Tears of Lives. He's also written a play about former Arizona Governor Raul H. Castro, who entered the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant in 1918, during the Mexican Revolution.

Last year, he put Arizona's SB 1070 saga with Joe Arpaio center stage, with 1070 (We Were Strangers Once Too). In July, he gathered actors at the Arizona Capitol for theatrical readings protesting President Donald Trump's policy on separating immigrant families.

Seeing his most recent play come to life onstage, Garcia is circumspect about ways the political landscape has changed since Sotomayor’s confirmation nearly a decade ago.

“Her appointment was a commentary on our democracy,” Garcia says. “At the time it was a symbol of how far our country has come, but now I wonder how far we’ve fallen back.”

My Beloved World. Through August 16 at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street; 602-252-8497; Tickets are $7 (additional fees apply when ordering online). Find more information on the Herberger Theater Center website.
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