This multi-dimensional theatrical experience is the centerpiece of Chicago ’s only Latino Theatre Festival. This play also marks the first U.S. visit and performance by Cuba ’s Teatro Buendia, a famous post-revolutionary Cuban Theatre Company
The magnificent stage by Tony award winning set designer Todd Rosenthal serves as both the interior and exterior of a 17 th century Mexican convent, with a backdrop of a baroque Catholic Church and the sky above.
This blending of history and fantasy, created by playwright Karen Zacarias and directed by Henry Godinez, tells the remarkable story of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. As a young, illegitimate, too-smart-for-her-own good, beautiful girl, Sor Juana (played by the fascinatingly gorgeous Malaya Rivera Drew) was sent to Mexico City.
There she caught the eye and patronage of the wife of the viceroy Antonio Sebastian de Toledo, who is the priest who begins the play supporting Sor Juana for her brilliance, intellect and her talents as both a writer and musician. Tony Plana, known for his performance in Ugly Betty, is the conflicted viceroy, who changes his positive initial opinion of Sor Juana into that of a negative viceroy who eventually agrees to squash and destroy her many literary talents and pro-feminist opinions.
Sor Juana, intent on pursuing her intellectual interests, eventually leaves the palace to enter a religious order, the Carmelites, later joining the more welcoming Hieronymites.
At the convent, Sor Juana wrote poetry and treatises defending the study of science and the education of women. These writings enflamed and offended the rigid hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the convent and in the Spanish court.
Though Sor Juana’s literary compositions infuriated the Mexican and Spanish religious leaders, she continued to write, eventually abandoned by her mentors in the Court. Eventually, Sor Juana painfully withdrew from her literary pursuits, sequestered herself in an isolated convent room, and took to writing religious views in her own blood, signing them “Juana, the worst of all.”
There are many layers of love, lust and betrayal and brutal humor in this play, many of them sexual in tone.
The story of this remarkable woman is relatively unknown to non-Spanish-speaking readers, yet she is one of the most compelling figures in all of Spanish literature. Her relentless questioning of the status quo, free expression for women and choices facing women writers, leave much to be discussed by the audience after the play.
Sor Juana is pictured on the Mexican equivalent of the 10-dollar-bill. Frequently, people recite her poems for their depth of meaning. She is a true example of a woman trying hard to liberate herself in a difficult time in history.
The audience wildly applauded the actors of this riveting play. Among them are the gutsy, outlandish Vicereine, Amy J. Carle; the funny, adoring personal maid Xochitl played by Laura Crotte; Don Pedro, the jilting con man lover played handsomely by Joe Minoso; Dion Mucciacito, making his Chicago debut as Silvio; and loyal novice at the convent, adorably played by Christina Nieves.
Mina Hyun-Ok Hong is the talented costume designer who brings us back to 17 th century Mexico with her amazing court and religious costumes.
I recommend this Goodman Theatre play, with its run through July 25. The Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago. Phone number for tickets is 312-443-3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org .
Ticket prices range from $20 to $71.
Photos: Liz Lauren