José Rivera was inspired by many events in his life to write References. His children brought home a stray kitten that they took care of. The neighborhood was riddled with coyotes, and he began to imagine the conversations that they might have. His own marriage was also in peril at the time, and he and his wife did in fact separate around the same time. The character of Benito was somewhat inspired by his younger brother Tony, who was a soldier in the Persian Gulf war stationed in Barstow, California where the play takes place. In addition to this, Rivera had been heavily influenced by Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who brought magical realism into the mainstream. The works of Marquez and the paintings of the eponymous artist Salvador Dalí, specifically the piece "Two Pieces of Bread Expressing Sentimental Love", were inspirations for the play, along with Pedro Calderon de la Barca's play La Vida Es Sueño ("Life Is a Dream"), which Rivera had recently translated and updated in his 1998 play Sueño.
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