Review | The Sins Of Sor Juana: a nifty combination of religious and poetic fervor

Ten Thousand Things Theater; various venues (check the TTT website), through June 9

Sun Mee Chomet and Thallis Santesteban in THE SINS OF SOR JUANA. Photo by Paula Keller.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a gifted poet in Nueva España (as México was called in the olden days). Born a bit too late to be part of the Spanish Golden Age (Lope de Vega, Miguel de Cervantes, et al) she nevertheless occupies a solidly preëminent place in Mexican culture. An autodidact, de la Cruz spoke Latin, Greek, Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) and had access to an extensive private library. She managed to combine deeply felt religious fervor and powerful poetic intensity. “Beautiful words are all I have to give.”

The Sins Of Sor Juana (at Ten Thousand Things Theater, through June 9; various venues; check the TTT website) is her story.

I found the play (by Karen Zacarías; the program provides no info whatsoever about Ms. Z) garbled. Or maybe I’m garbled. This is quite possible. It took me a long time to figure out that Juana’s failed betrothal to the (unseen) Don Fabio, and her passionate love for the bastard Silvio, as enjoyable and funny as it is, was a flashback, the catalyst to her religious conversion. Once I figure this out, the play was a pleasure.

Juana lived in a convent (now a shrine), wrote poetry, works of philosophy. Her rooms became a salon for the Mexican intelligentsia. She ended up earning the enmity of the Bishop (as portrayed in The Sins Of Sor Juana). He forced her to give up her books and her work, which she obediently did. Juana Inés died young, age 46, from bubonic plague contracted from her fellow nuns.

The Sins Of Sor Juana, like all TTT plays, has almost no production elements – no lights, minimal sets and props, threadbare costumes. And sky-high acting chops. The cast is close – you could reach out and touch them – and this lends the proceedings a wonderful intensity. The Sins Of Sor Juana features many of the usual TTT suspects: George Keller, Sun Mee Chomet, Ryan Colbert. Added to them are newcomers (new to me, anyhow) Ava Saunders, Jason Rojas, Pedro Bayón. All are terrific.

And Thallis Santesteban as Juana. Santesteban’s work is marvelous, intelligent without being strident, sensitive without being goopy, absolutely devoid of self-pity. Juana gives up something ephemeral – love – for something as vague – religiosity. Santesteban makes this choice logical and life-affirming. Brava.

And, saving the best for last, the incidental music by Robert Everest truly thrills. Everest is an outstanding guitarist and has a fabulous feel for the play’s música latina. Everest plays the best, bar none, version of “Cielito Lindo” I have ever heard. It’s in the pre-show music. Don’t miss it.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and from The National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.



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