by Karen Zacarias
Directed by Henry Godinez
At the Goodman Theatre Chicago
Melodramatic and uneven tone shifts deplete Sor Juana’s story
I’m not sure why Karen Zacarias’ play about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1649-1695) – The Sins of Sor Juana had to include silly, raw humor and buffoon-like characters? The contradictory tones and the confusing flashbacks deleted from the story of the famous Mexican writer, scholar, poet, feminist, nun and revolutionary – Sor Juana.
On one hand, we see the struggles of a women to become a scholar in a society that doesn’t value scholarship from women and on the other hand, we see Sor Juana struggling with her apparent need for love and romance. Which is the real Sor Juana?
The story moves back and forth from Sor Juana’s troubles with the Inquisition due to her prolific free-thinking writing to an earlier time when she is sponsored by the Vicereine of Mexico. The Viceroy-played as a buffoon by Tony Plana and his aid, Don Pedro- another goof and fay fellow played by Joe Minoso- plot to have Slivio (the macho Dion Mucciacito) seduce and discredit Sor Juana. It seems her intellect is a threat to the establishment?
The bedroom scenes were particularly offensive as they were filled with silly, raw sexual humor from Minoso’s Don Pedro. I also never felt any chemistry or romantic spark between Mucciacito and Malaya Rivera Drew as Sor Juana. I also never believed that Drew was a troubled nun–she came off as a spoiled child rather than a persecuted nun.
I’m baffled by how much this play reminds me of a Spanish TV soap opera. The humor is misplaced and the drama never reaches high enough to adequately tell Sor Juana’s story. I much prefer The Defiant Muse By Nicholas A. Patricca produced by Victory Gardens Theater in 2007 to enlighten us about Sor Juana.
Todd Rosenthal’s spacious set aptly depicts a 17th Century adobe convent of Mexico’s Spanish colonial era. Mina Hyun-Ok Hong’s period-perfect costumes are marvelous. Too bad the play’s tone and script left much to be desired. This play does little to capture the passion and drive that motivated Sor Juana toward scholarship. The acting by the main characters was hollow and clown-like.
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $20 -$71, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays & sundaes at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermittent.