Sunday, August 28, 2016

Eleni N. Gage's "The Ladies of Managua"

Eleni N. Gage's books include the travel memoir North of Ithaka, which describes her experience living in Lia, the small Greek village where her father was born, the novel Other Waters, about an Indian-American psychiatrist who thinks that her family has been cursed, and most recently, the novel The Ladies of Managua.

Here Gage dreamcasts an adaptation of The Ladies of Managua:
I didn’t see the three main characters of The Ladies of Managua as I wrote the book; instead I heard them speaking. But once I’d finished the first draft and read it, I thought, “These are three great roles for Latina actresses!”

The book is told in the voices of three generations of Nicaraguan women—a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. I wrote the novel in 2012 and 13 while we were living in Granada, Nicaragua, and it wasn’t until we’d moved back to New York that Jane the Virgin premiered on TV. For those who haven’t seen the show (and if that’s you, you really should start DVRing right away) it’s also about three generations of Latina women, only they’re of Venezuelan origin. (It’s a satire of telenovelas, and my book is not, but at heart, both are about the relationships between three complicated women.) The grandmother, mom, and daughter in the TV show—who share a love as powerful and conflicts as profound as the women in my book—are played by three amazing actresses—Ivonne Coll, Andrea Navedo, Gina Rodriguez. So, of course, the easiest way to cast The Ladies of Managua would be to have this ready-made family play the characters. However, I think it would be difficult for the viewer (me included) to see them depict a different family. To solve that problem, I’ve come up with an alternate dream cast.

For me, the entire story begins with the character of the grandmother Isabela, the society lady whose bourgeois demeanor hides a surprising past. I would love to see her played by Rita Moreno (who, not incidentally, plays a bourgeois older lady on Jane the Virgin). We’d also need a younger actress to play Isabela at 19, someone with a 1940-50s sweetness to her face but who can also portray the sorrow of love gone wrong. Obvi, that’s Selena Gomez, although I’m open to suggestions.

Ninexin, the revolutionary-turned-politician mom, is a woman of great power with passion simmering under the surface. Salma Hayek. Claro que si! (Fun fact: As a girl, Salma Hayek was kicked out of boarding school at Sacred Heart in New Orleans, the same school the teenaged Isabela attends in the novel.) Penelope Cruz would be great too. I think either of them could play Ninexin in middle age as well as her younger version in flashbacks, but I leave that to the producer. (Did I mention that in my dream world the producer is Sofia Vergara? Who can also play any character she wants. And she’s co-producing with her pal, Reese Witherspoon, because they’re all about strong roles for women of all age ranges.)

Mariana, the daughter who was mainly raised in the US, is a difficult character. She has to be likable while still expressing bitterness and jealousy. It’s a pivotal role and, again, it comes back to Jane the Virgin for me. I would cast Diane Guerrero, who plays Jane’s friend Lina. Guerrero has written a book about her life—she came home from school in Boston one day to find her family had been deported back to Colombia—and I think would bring a powerful well of emotion to the role.

When The Ladies of Managua was published, the Kirkus Reviews write-up said the novel “fairly begs to be filmed.” I could go on forever casting the minor characters, but I’ll stop now. It’s been so fun to imagine the story coming to life—thanks for asking me to do so!
Visit Eleni N. Gage's website.

--Marshal Zeringue