It’s hard to see how the darkest period in Eliana Lopez’s marriage to San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi could be turned into a comedy, but in her new play, “Cual es el Escándalo?,” Lopez does just that that—and with great results.
Lopez gives voice to about a dozen different characters, recounting the events leading up to the domestic violence accusations against Mirkarimi that led to his temporary suspension in 2012. The one-woman show was written by Lopez and her brother and theater director, Alfonso Lopez. The play will be mostly in Spanish with English subtitles, projected on the screen behind the stage.
On New Year’s Eve 2011, Lopez and Mirkarimi had a heated argument that left a bruise on Lopez’s bicep. At the suggestion of then neighbor Ivory Madison, Lopez made a video which showed her bruised and visibly distressed. The video was meant to be private, to be released only in the event that a potential divorce would lead to a custody dispute over their son Theo.
However, without Lopez’s consent and using the video as evidence, Madison filed a complaint for domestic abuse and Mirkarimi was arrested in his own jail. His suspension and the trial that followed shook San Francisco politics. Eventually, Mirkarimi was reinstated and, as Lopez says in the play, “the normal days came back.”
On April 29, Eliana’s team welcomed El Tecolote to review the play’s first rehearsal at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. The show was funny, touching, and done with respect for all characters involved.
Before beginning, Lopez clarified that the performance was still in draft form, and details like subtitles, lighting design and some dialogue were still being worked through. However, none of that showed during the rehearsal: the show felt finished, the transitions between characters flowed easily and Lopez delivered her lines with great timing.
The story begins shortly before Lopez met her husband. She takes us through her life in Venezuela, then meeting and falling in love with Mirkarimi, and moving to San Francisco. She also gives context and details all of the stressors in the couple’s life that culminated in the now infamous altercation.
Some have questioned Lopez’s choice to premiere such a controversial play on the same year that Mirkarimi is up for reelection.
However, Lopez insists that the timing is coincidental; she originally wanted to premiere in September of 2014.
“Projects aren’t really done when we want to, they take their own time to mature,” said Lopez. “Now it’s ready, now is the time to do it, and that’s very independently from the campaign.”
Lopez found that playing all of the people involved in the controversy—especially the ones she felt betrayed by—gave her a perspective that she might not have otherwise gained.
“Trying to understand each one of the characters involved, why they acted the way they did, allowed me to forgive them, and not fill myself with hate,” said Lopez.
Lopez reveals the tensions in her marriage that led to the heated argument.
“You can see the mistakes we both made, the process we were in,” she said.
Perhaps one of the most moving parts of the performance is when Eliana details Ross’s own childhood traumas, triggering his fear and anger upon hearing that his wife and child might travel unescorted to Venezuela, a country with one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world.
Most politicians’ wives would want the episode to fade from public consciousness, but Lopez wanted it out in the open. “Our family is still exposed and being utilized for political ends, so it seemed fair that I take my voice and tell my story, that belongs to me … to appropriate something that is mine.”
The show also touches on issues of immigration, motherhood, women’s rights, and of course, domestic violence. A worrisome aspect of the 2012 drama was the fact that Lopez felt silenced by the anti-domestic violence advocates and women’s groups whom she thought would offer her support. “If we really want to empower women, we must listen to them,” she said.
“The system is in charge of punishing, not of fixing the family’s problems … if I had been a real victim, the trauma of being publicly exposed would have destroyed me,” she said. “Destroying families should not be the answer, we must work for a system that reunites families.”
In the end, Eliana and Ross will always be the only ones who truly know what happened on that New Year’s Eve. What is undeniable, is that her actions are not those of a woman who is afraid of her husband.
Lopez’s willingness to speak so openly about the problems in her marriage and her boldness in staging this play have to be admired. “Being able to tell my story is already a success to me, the fact that my family is united, happy, together and strong, that’s our victory.”